Guatemala “amassing” troops along Belize border as tensions rise

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BELMOPAN, Belize,  – Belize has accused neighboring Guatemala of “amassing” troops along the border in the wake of the shooting death of a 13-year-old boy in an incident reportedly involving Belizean soldiers.

Last Friday, Guatemala responded with a scathing statement deploring the Belizean military’s “aggressive attitude” and saying its “acts of violence” are hurting bilateral relations.

The Central American country says the teenager was attacked by Belizean soldiers. Belize claims its troops shot in self-defence after coming under fire.

The incident has heightened tensions between the two countries over a longstanding territorial dispute.

Guatemala’s claim to parts of the territory governed by its Caribbean neighbour dates back to when Belize was a British colony.

Guatemala says that last week’s shooting took place on Wednesday when young Julio Rene Alvarado Ruano, his father and his 11-year-old brother were attacked as they planted crops in the border community of San Jose Las Flores near Melchor de Mencos, which is on the border between the department of Peten and Belize.

The Belizean government said in a statement that, according to initial reports, its security forces were investigating illegal land clearing in the Cebada area of the Chiquibul National Park in western Belize when they detained a Guatemalan man suspected of illicit activities.

The security patrol came under fire around nightfall and shot back in self-defence, the statement said. Before leaving the location just inside Belizean territory, the soldiers found the boy’s body, which was taken to Belize City for an autopsy, it added.

Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow disputed Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales’ version of events, saying in a statement that his country “has a long history and tradition as a peace-loving country, respectful of international law (and) human rights.”

The Barrow administration added that: “the current amassing of Guatemalan troops in the border areas … only adds volatility to the tensions.”

According to the AFP news agency, Defence Minister William Mansilla said Guatemala had deployed 3,000 troops on the border.

Morales did not specifically mention troop mobilizations, but said “We have decided that from this moment on, we will carry out a strict exercise of protection” of the border area.

The Guatemalan Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the autopsy conducted in Belize found that the teenager had been shot eight times, including four times in the back, by a high-power, military-grade rifle.

It also cited nine other Guatemalans it said had been killed by Belizean forces since 1999.

In a terse statement, the ministry said: “It is regrettable that the defence forces of Belize are the only army in the Latin America and Caribbean region that fires on unarmed civilians from another country.”

BBC News reports that Luis Almagro, the head of the Organization of American States (OAS), has visited both countries in an effort to resolve the situation.

The OAS urged both sides to “work even harder to establish a lasting peace.”

 

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