A briefing on the latest meeting between officials from Belize and Guatemala held last Friday at the OAS Adjacency Zone office was conducted today at the NEMO’s Conference Room in Belmopan. Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Lawrence Sylvester, opened the session this evening just after four o’clock. Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington and the Opposition representative, Assad Shoman took the head table where they spoke of the details coming out of this last meeting. According to Minister Elrington, prior to the meeting a team from Belize met in San Ignacio to complete a draft of proposals to present at the scheduled meeting with their Guatemalan counterparts.
“Prior to the meeting we developed a draft of what we wanted to see incorporated in an agreement with the Guatemalans. The draft was developed in consultations between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Belize Defense Force General Jones and the opposition. We completed that draft on Friday the 8th of April at the meeting of the Belize Delegation at the San Ignacio Hotel. At that meeting participating were myself, CEO Sylvester, General Jones, Ambassador Rosado and representing the leader of the opposition was Assad Shoman. In the Belize internal meeting in San Ignacio we discussed our wish for the OAS to participate in the discussion between Belize and Guatemala, we thought that that was very important that we had the OAS present. Our team’s overall aims for the negotiations over the Sarstoon as discussed were as follows, “To reach an agreement with Guatemala as early as possible the implementation of which would not be delayed by Guatemalan administrative procedures or legislative requirements to ensure that any agreement breach would protect Belize’s position and maintain peace and stability in the area until such time as Guatemala’s claims are resolved and to ensure that the OAS has a role in helping the two countries in maintaining peace and stability in the area.” The meeting therefore was almost exclusively to formulate this agreement for utilizing the Sarstoon both our militaries and the civilian populations of two countries that was the intention.”
The eleven paragraph document that was drafted held several proposals which were aimed at giving Belize full access to its portion of the Sarstoon.
“The proposal which we came up had 11 paragraphs. The first paragraph says this, “The parties agree as follows” and these are the proposals (none of this has been formally agreed to by the Guatemalan side this was the proposals that we put to them last week Friday but it has not been agreed to by them yet formally and we are hoping that they will signal their position on them as soon as possible). The first one was this “The channels of the Sarstoon shall continue to be freely navigable by vessels and boats of each of the two countries without any interference or trailing by the other.” “Whenever any vessel of any one of the parties approach the base of the other party or any other vessel it shall reduce its speed as a token of respect and friendship and to avoid injury or damage to persons or property.” Three “The law enforcement and armed forces of both parties shall refrain from any threatening, abusive or unfriendly actions words or behavior of any kind with respect to each other in and around the said river.” Four “Law enforcement and armed forces of both parties shall respect the rights of the citizens of each other to make lawful and environmentally sustainable use of the river for fishing and recreation.” Five “The parties shall cooperate to prevent or limit hazards and reduce and eliminate adverse consequences arising from floods, droughts and incidents involving substances hazardous to water.” Six “The party shall cooperate on the basis of sovereign equality, mutual benefit and good faith in order to promote and achieve the goals of this agreement.” Seven “The party shall cooperate in preventing and countering any illegal activities including drug trafficking, human trafficking ,arms smuggling, contraband and other illegal activities of a transnational nature and to this end the parties may develop plans and conduct joint law enforcement and military patrols or operations including search and rescue which may include the participation of third countries.” Eight “The parties shall cooperate to avoid incidents on the Sarstoon River conducive to tensions between them. In the event of such an incident the party shall immediately communicate with one and another to contain it, resolve it and prevent its recurrence.” Nine “As a matter of courtesy and to promote good working relations commanders, assigned to the Sarstoon River may visit each other by mutual arrangement to discuss matters of mutual interest.” Ten “The party shall on a regular basis exchange information this includes an undertaking for any one party to inform the other party before hand of any non routine activities in or near the Sarstoon River by mutual arrangement the party shall install practical means of radio and other communication to facilitate these exchanges.” Eleven. “If a dispute arises between the parties as to the interpretation or implementation of this protocol they shall seek as soon as reasonably practicable to resolve it by negotiation and should they fail to satisfactorily resolve any such dispute either of the parties may request the Secretary General of the OAS to use his good offices to propose a solution to the dispute and the other party hereby agrees to accept such offices and to comply in good faith with the recommendations of the Secretary General.”
Ambassador Assad Shoman spoke on the reception by the Guatemalans on the proposals. He noted that they had given a one week period for their counterparts to respond.
“We are waiting now for the Guatemalan government to go through its process of consultation with the President and to give us a reply. We asked them to reply within a week because we want to make sure that they know this is a matter of urgency for us and the Belizean people. We do know that we can’t force them but we are hoping that soon the will reply and that the reply will be positive and helpful to us as we seek to maintain our people’s security and ability to use the land that we won and has been defined in the 1859 treaty. A treaty that as you know the Guatemalan Government has declared void but which in international law is not void at all, it’s very much alive and binding on both countries.”
Another matter brought up at the meeting was the issue of securing funds to have the presence of the OAS Peace Office which requires about five million dollars annually to operate.