Tue, Apr 17, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Guatemala votes to refer border dispute to the ICJ

AFP, GUATEMALA CITY

Guatemalans on Sunday voted overwhelmingly to send a centuries-old border dispute with neighboring Belize to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, the Netherlands, for final resolution, preliminary referendum results showed.

A total of 95.89 percent voted “yes,” with votes from more than 92 percent of polling stations accounted for, Gustavo Castillo of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said.

Polls closed at 6pm after 11 hours of voting, which took place “without reports of security incidents,” tribunal president Maria Eugenia Mijangos said.

However, despite 7.5 million Guatemalans being summoned to the ballot box, the vote was marked by a low turnout.

The border disagreement, the roots of which go back two centuries, has seen tensions spike from time to time. Two years ago, Guatemala mobilized 3,000 troops along the densely forested unmarked border zone after an incident in which a Guatemalan teenager was fatally shot.

A Belize border patrol officer had opened fire after being shot at, but an investigation by the Organization of American States found it not responsible for the death.

The two nations agreed in 2008 to send the dispute to The Hague-based ICJ if the people of both nations approved.

Observers from 25 nations were on hand to monitor the polling.

Belize has not yet fixed a date for its referendum on the issue, although officials say it could take place next year.

The Guatemalan plebiscite asked voters to respond “yes” or “no” as to whether any legal claims by Guatemala against Belize relating to its territories “should be submitted to the International Court of Justice for final settlement” and boundary determination.

Mijangos told reporters that voter apathy was a big risk. Efforts by Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales to boost turnout have foundered on the rocks of his low popularity.

“We are calling on all Guatemalans, especially the youth making up the majority of the electorate, to participate, to go to polling stations to put in their vote on this very important issue which has taken so many years to find a solution to,” Mijangos said.

Morales said as he voted that the two nations had “very good bilateral relations” and he hoped the dispute could be resolved.

Guatemala has made claims to over more than half of Belize’s territory, dating back to when its English-speaking neighbor was a British colony.

The border issue goes back to 1783, when Spain gave Britain the right to occupy the territory that became Belize and exploit its timber in exchange for combating piracy.

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