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article imageCrisis with Guatemala over: Belize PM

By Henry Morales (AFP)     Apr 25, 2016 in Politics

Belize's prime minister on Monday declared that a crisis with neighboring Guatemala prompted by a deadly shooting last week on their disputed border is "over."

Prime Minister Dean Barrow said he and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales agreed "it was absolutely necessary to dial down the tension between our two countries."

Still, friction between the two Central American nations remains.

Guatemala is keeping in place hundreds of troops it sent to the border after the shooting incident, which left a 13-year-old Guatemalan boy dead.

Morales on Monday said officials were helping the boy's family prepare a complaint against Belize before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Each country claimed the incident last Wednesday was an unprovoked attack on its soil.

Guatemala said Belizean soldiers opened fire on a family of Guatemalans walking home from field labor, killing the boy.

Belize said its soldiers had come under gunfire from Guatemalan civilians and responded in self-defense.

Both have agreed to back an inquiry by the Organization of American States.

- Historic animosity -

Guatemala has made claims over more than half of Belize's territory dating back 150 years to when its small neighbor was a British colony known as British Honduras.

Although Belize became independent in 1981, Guatemala did not recognize it for another decade because of its territorial claims, prompting Britain to keep a small military presence in its former colony as a deterrent until five years ago.

Last week's shooting escalated tensions and alarmed the United States, the OAS and other observers as Guatemala ordered 3,000 soldiers to its north, near Belize, and doubled its military presence along the border to 1,000 troops.

Barrow said in his statement that he held a meeting on Monday with his national security advisers, who assured him the heat was going out of the situation.

Blaming the confrontation on a bellicose stance from Morales, he said "I am wholly satisfied" the crisis "is over."

He claimed international support for Belize's version of events, saying the situation had been defused so "the return to normalcy has begun" and the two countries could work on "the reiteration and expansion of the protocols governing the complex relations between us."

Morales, for his part, emphasized his support for an OAS inquiry into the shooting, saying he hoped for a "peaceful" resolution.

"Both countries have shown the same intention that this (OAS) process be carried out correctly," he said.

"We hope that this will be resolved by legal and peaceful means."

Morales also stressed his government's support for the boy's family.

"We have ordered the foreign ministry to give full backing to the family," he said, "so it can present its complaint to the IAHCR, and consultations have already started."

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