Media Tour of Sarstoon Island Turns Hostile as Guatemalan Armed Forces Encounter BDF

Media Tour of Sarstoon Island Turns Hostile as Guatemalan Armed Forces Encounter BDF

For the media and the military, today was to be a day to allow members of the press to get a familiarization tour of the Forward Operating Base.  For the Guatemalan Armed Forces (GAF), however, it was a case on us being in their territory.  As the media took a tour of the Sarstoon Island, a hostile encounter occurred with the GAF.  The encounter led to a brief exchange between one of the soldiers and the BDF’s Commandant, Brigadier General Azariel Loria. The Guatemalan insisted that the river was for Guatemala and demanded that the BDF leave the area. General Loria and the group stood their ground and carried on while being trailed the entire time by the Guatemalan vessel. General Loria remained rather calm and spoke to the media about the difficulties faced by the BDF, with the GAF’s vessel in the background.

General Azareil Loria, Commandant, Brigadier General, BDF: “It used to be calm. It’s always calm. We understand there are no protocols. We are trying to hammer a protocol. The Guatemalans say that one exists, whenever we ask them for such protocols they cannot come up with anything. So what we do is to just continue to patrol and hold our grounds. The southern channel is Belize, of the Sarstoon and that’s what we are doing. They too they say you have heard it, that the whole river belongs to them and we are telling them no it’s no so it belongs to Belize. They are saying it is undisputed, there is no discussion but we are at the ICJ at this present moment.”

Reporter: But how frustrating is it for you guys to be out here, you know it’s Belizean waters, you’re doing your job and then these guys follow you everyday and they’re like “No you’re in Guatemala.” 

General Azareil Loria, Commandant, Brigadier General, BDF: “It’s not frustrating to me because this is not the first time that they are there following us and we have been here, I have been here on numerous occasions and they always follow it but what we need to do is to have a bit of common sense and report it through the channels. It’s not for me to decide on what to do here so this I have directed by Deputy Commander to as soon as we reach on camp to document it, send it to the Ministry of National Defense and Border Security and they in turn will send it to Foreign Affairs and then it becomes diplomatic they will find a solution to this, they will know what else to do if to send a protest note to Guatemala, call them I don’t know. That is above me.”

General Loria added that while anyone is welcome to visit the area, Belizeans must remain vigilant when doing so. Loria noted that the hostilities are common, and are extremely high risk. 

General Azareil Loria, Commandant, Brigadier General, BDF: “We will keep patrolling what is ours and we will not stop. And perhaps it will become evident and clear whenever we get a final solution at Netherlands in the Hague. Maybe at the end of the year or next year. That is when we’re going to tell them this is ours and it’s not me say so it’s the International Community that says so. Right now I am saying it belongs to us.”

Reporter: So we all agree that this is Belizean waters.

General Azareil Loria, Commandant, Brigadier General, BDF: “Yes it’s Belizean waters by far, any day.”

Reporter: But would you still encourage Belizeans, patriotic Belizeans who want to come in this area to visit the Sarstoon despite these incursions ?

General Azareil Loria, Commandant, Brigadier General, BDF: “As I mentioned anybody is welcomed here but the civilians at large they have to be sensitized that when you do come, come and check to our base and more than likely this is what will happen to you. More than likely if they see you around they will come and they are going to tell you this is Guatemalan waters and if you are by yourself or as part of a small group you even risk detention and carried over there. So this is what we are dealing with and it’s risky and you have to know when it is safe to come and navigate these waters. Our best weapon in this case is diplomacy, that is what we have to do. Diplomacy is our weapon, our pen is our sword and that is what we have to treat it right now, to treat it diplomatically at this point in time because it doesn’t benefit any one of us if we do it otherwise.”

We’ll keep following this story.

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