Eleven Belizeans were aggressed on Saturday by members of the Guatemalan Armed Forces (GAF). The group, led by the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV), left Punta Gorda Town enroute to the Sarstoon Island to place a flag in remembrance of their fallen members, Hubert Pipersburgh and Nedal McLaren. According to Wil Maheia of the BTV they had reported to the Forward Operating Base, but on their way to the island they were blocked by the GAF.
Will Maheia, Belize Territorial Volunteers: “Now that they have protocols we checked in with the BDF and we let them know that yeah we were going around this island, we explained to them that this year this trip is definitely different because we’re doing it for the fallen BTV soldiers who are Nadal McLaren and Hubert Pipersburgh who was actually the first person to die of COVID in this country and he went with me several times to the same place, to the Sarstoon to place flags so we wanted a moment of silence for him so we informed the BDF what we were doing and the BDF were like ‘okay no problem’. When we proceeded to the island within minutes the Guatemalan armed forces came and this time they came very aggressive with their boat and started grabbing our boat at least first they never grabbed our boat. In times of COVID and everything we made them know plain you can’t do that and I believe that the BDF – and I have to really salute officer in charge I think his name is Raheem Guerra and when he saw that he got his troops into motion and with no uncertainty he did not even let the Guatemalans know or ask them what they’re doing he just put his boat to protect our boat and let the Guatemalans know back off so I was very impressed with the BDF show of presence and show of force of who really owns the island and I think a lot of times that comes down to who is really running the Forward Operating Base you know and this is one of those times when you see that the officer in charge Raheem Guerra just came and took charge. So he told us that these guys will not stop your from doing what you’re doing and we did what we had to do, we pulled the boat up to the island with the flag and then we had our moment of silence and then we proceeded on without any incident.”
Maheia told Love News that they were able to place the flag on the Sarstoon Island for a few minutes as a symbolic gesture. They removed the flag and returned to Punta Gorda without difficulty. It is to be noted that the Government of Belize has still not finalized a Sarstoon Protocol as was agreed to over four years ago in mid-May 2016 during bilateral talks in Istanbul, Turkey. In an interview with the Prime Minister over one year ago he had indicated that former Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales noted that such a protocol would have to go to the Congress for approval. Morales added that he was certain it would not have been approved. With a new President now in position in Guatemala, Love News is seeking an update from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We will keep you posted.