The images of a BDF boat running at high speed out of the Sarstoon, closely followed by a Guatemalan naval vessel, which seems to be in hot pursuit, have incensed many Belizeans.
But BDF Commander Brigadier-General David Jones has said that the images are being misrepresented, and there was no chase last week Tuesday at the mouth of the Sarstoon.
“They were not chasing us. Chasing us implies that we had done something wrong or we shouldn’t have been in there and they are trying to catch up with us to probably arrest us or something. That’s not the case”, said Jones.
The encounter between the BDF and the Guatemalan navy was viewed for the first time by elements of the Belize Territorial Volunteers last Tuesday. But according to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who chairs the National Security Council, those encounters are routine, and have been happening since the BDF started using the Sarstoon regularly to change shifts at the Cadenas observation post.
The BDF has confirmed that on their regular trips up the Sarstoon, the Guatemalan Navy now shadows them all the way to Cadenas. On at least one instance, Commander Jones claimed at a recent press conference, the Guatemalans had even threatened to ram the BDF vessel, with the threat of gunfire between both parties.
That aggression, however, seems at odds with Jones’ statement to the media on Tuesday in which he claims that he held discussions with his Guatemalan counterparts at a recent meeting in Cartagena.
“I met with Vice Admiral Thomas and Colonel Garcia. Those are the two gentlemen that are particularly involved in what’s happening inside the Sarstoon. We discussed what has been happening, we discussed some of the incidents that occurred and we had discussions in regard to the way forward and how we can communicate easier to prevent situations from escalating. They have agreed to cooperate with us and we have agreed to cooperate with them.”
Interestingly, Vice-Admiral Thomas is the senior Guatemalan official who instructed the Belize Territorial Volunteers to turn back when they headed to Sarstoon Island on August 16th.
In a symbolic show of support for the BDF in the face of Guatemalan aggression, the BTV has stated that it will provide its own shadow for the BDF when it changes shift on Tuesday.
But that’s not going to work apparently, since the BDF has now changed its modus operandi…whether to thwart the BTV or in keeping with security protocol is anybody’s guess.
According to Jones, “We have been varying our days in the past and we will continue to do it, so if they choose to go on a Tuesday and we’re not there it’s not because we haven’t been going there in that week.”
Against the setting of that back & forth, the sovereignty of the Sarstoon River remains a hot-button issue. The Belize Territorial Volunteers have promised another expedition to that area in the “very near future”.