The Guatemalan Government believes that Sarstoon River and Sarstoon Island is theirs. They have a military base at the mouth of the river and just recently Belize’s Government established its own military base in the area. The area has seen confrontations mainly between Guatemalan Armed Forces and Belizeans. Several Guatemalans have been caught fishing illegally in Belizean waters. Some say that if Belizeans vote ‘yes’ to the ICJ, a Sarstoon Protocol must be established before taking the claim to the ICJ. Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington disagrees.
Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs: “It’s not a view that I will share because the Sarstoon protocol is something which we will need even after we solve the matter. A protocol really is simply a formula for dealing with issues that are in dispute when they arise- how you go about dealing with it. For example Guatemalans hold up Belizeans on the sea, we would like to know that we have a mechanism whereby people in the military in Belize can contact the military in Guatemala, people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belize can contact counterparts in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and resolve those issues that is basically what we talk about when we make reference to a protocol. That kind of agreement exists all over the world, South China Sea where there is dispute and in the South American countries where you have these border disputes they have protocols to deal with it. You have problems with the United States and North Korea they have protocols how they deal with it- it is simply a mechanism to resolve contested issues in a peaceful way to avoid any kind of bloodshed and escalation of tensions and the like. So there will always be need in my view for a protocol not only on the Sarstoon but also on the sea area, even when we have a delimitation of the seas we will still have to have a protocol and an understanding with Guatemalans as to how to deal with incidents when they arise I think that will always be there.”
Over the past years, Guatemalan Armed Forces have intercepted and prevented Belizean vessels from traversing the Sarstoon River.