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Belize and Guatemala hold talks aimed at ending border dispute


Belize Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington says his government wants a referendum to be held as part of the efforts to end its seemingly interminable border dispute with Guatemala.


His statement followed a meeting at the OAS in Washington where he met with his Guatemalan counterpart Fernando Carrera and the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Miquel Angel Insulza, designed to allow all the parties to commit to holding a referendum in 2014 instead of this year.

The proposed referendum is in compliance with the special agreement between them to submit Guatemala’s territorial, insular and maritime claim to the ICJ.

In June 2008, Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow said resolving the dispute was his biggest goal. He proposed referendums for the citizens of Belize and Guatemala asking whether they support referring the issue to the International Court of Justice for arbitration.

An official special agreement on submitting the issue to the ICJ was signed on 8 December 2008, with referendums to be held on the issue simultaneously in Belize and Guatemala[2] on 6 October 2013. The was approved by Guatemala's Congress.[3]

No precise date had been agreed upon for the 2014 referendum and another meeting is being planned for June in Guatemala where the issue will be further discussed.

Elrington said that postponing the planned October 6 referendum in both territories would not contravene the Special Agreement that had been signed between the two countries in 2008.

“I think it is fair to describe it as a work in progress. We had, what I think, was a very constructive and cordial meeting and we have agreed to continue to work on a new date for holding the joint referendum,” Erlington said, adding that the Guatemalans had informed that it was impossible to hold the referendum on the schedule date.

“But we were encouraged to continue to see whether we can in fact find a new date quickly for the holding of this referendum and so we have to come back to report to the prime minister, the cabinet, the leader of the opposition and then we will take, hopefully, a joint position which is going to be announced,” the foreign minister added.

Last month, the Belize government said Guatemala appeared to be having difficulty with proceeding with the referendum in both countries on October 6 this year and that the country wants to go straight to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). It also did not want to put an end to the existing Special Agreement between them.

The Belizean-Guatemalan territorial dispute is an unresolved bi-national territorial dispute between the two Central American neighbours dating from 1940 when Guatemala claimed control of all of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country.

CARICOM leaders have repeatedly “reaffirmed their unequivocal support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Belize”.