Guatemalan Military Blocks SATIIM Rangers on the Sarstoon

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Updated: April 6, 2016

SATIIM rangers who were on routine patrol yesterday were intercepted by Guatemalan military as the Rangers were on their way exiting the Sarstoon River. Correspondent Paul Mahung spoke with Executive Director of SATIIM who provided the details.

PAUL MAHUNG 

SATIM’s executive director, Froyla Salam spoke to Love News here of the incident.”

FROYLA SALAM

“Yesterday morning after the SATIM patrol had returned from visiting an area along the Sarstoon they were met on the bank of the Sarstoon by the Guatemalan Military. Obviously the military had been lying in wait for them and approached the team quite aggressively and asked them if they did not know that there is now a new protocol in place. Of course the team said that they did not know of any such directive and we remained level headed as they tried to answer whatever questions that the Guatemalan military were asking of them.”

PAUL MAHUNG

“Is this the first time of such incident?”

FROYLA SALAM

“It is the first time and Satim has been patrolling the Sarstoon for quite a number of years and we’ve never had an incident like this before and so for us it’s really something to ponder before we do another patrol because the last thing we want to do is place our team in any kind of danger.”

Paul Mahung: What would be the way forward with this incident for SATIM ?

FROYLA SALAM

“We have contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we would like to know if there is a new directive in place for Belizeans travelling the Sarstoon. Certainly we are not strangers to the area, we have been doing it for a while so we would like to know if there is something official coming from them because obviously we were travelling the Sarstoon to make sure that we patrolled the area to document any illegal activity taking place. So we are being prevented from doing our duties and so we would like to know what the position is from the Ministry of Foreign  affairs in this particular matter.”

Paul Mahung: There are other years before 2015 of Belizeans stating that whenever they go up the Sarstoon, especially from the mouth going in it seems that one of the Guatemalan boats would normally follow them a distance and then return, has this happened and is this still happening?

FROYLA SALAM

“Well the way the situation occurred yesterday was that we had informed the BDF outpost at the mouth of the Sarstoon of our patrolling activity and we spoke with them and we had been given permission by the BDF HQ and at this time there was no boat following the team. The team went into a hotspot and it was upon their exit from that area into the Sarstoon that was when they found the Guatemalan Military Vessel waiting for them. They were not followed but we can definitely say that the military was waiting for them to exit that particular area.”

Paul Mahung: Were there any indication what distance away from the BDF post this incident happened?

FROYLA SALAM

“It’s quite a way off. If you look at the map the Black Creek area that is where the incident took place and that is further up Cadenas so it’s not very close to the Sarstoon Island or anywhere close to the mouth of the river, it was quite further in and like I said we had been patrolling that area without any incident, as a matter of fact we were there in February and we didn’t have any problems wit the Guatemalan military so obviously this is a new chapter in relations and we being a local NGO we are very much caught up in an international incident.”

 Paul Mahung: Salam also spoke of other concerns in SATIM’s area of responsibility in the Sarstoon Temash National Park.

FROYLA SALAM

“One of the main reasons why the SATIM patrol went along the Sarstoon was to document activities that occur in the park. Our main concern has been an increased rate of incursion of illegal fishing and logging. The fishing is of particular concern because gill nets are being used in the Temash river and the most likely fisher folk are not our own Belizeans so we are very much concerned that that is taking place. Logging is also taking place within the park and the fact of the matter is without us going there no one else is keeping an eye and documenting what extractions are taking place so for us it’s very important that we continue to patrol and to document these activities.”

Paul Mahung: Salam remarked that SATIM’s unarmed rangers in their patrol boat were intercepted by a Guatemalan vessel with six armed military personnel on board about half an hour by boat from the mouth of the Sarstoon river mouth.