GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala on Thursday protested the killing of a 13-year-old boy in a border-shooting incident involving Belizean soldiers, the latest flashpoint in a long territorial dispute between the Central American neighbors.
President Jimmy Morales called it a “cowardly and excessive attack” that merits the “total condemnation of the Guatemalan state.” He said he had summoned his ambassador to Belize for consultations and urged Belize to investigate and bring those responsible to justice.
Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow disputed 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.”
Guatemalan authorities said teenager Julio Rene Alvarado Ruano, his father and his 11-year-old brother were attacked Wednesday as they planted crops in the community of San Jose Las Flores near Melchor de Mencos, which is on the border between the department of Peten and Belize.
Belize’s 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.
It said the patrol came under fire around nightfall and shot back in self-defense. Before leaving the location just inside Belizean territory, the soldiers found the boy’s body, which was taken to Belize City for an autopsy, the statement said.
The detained man, identified as Jose Maria Antonio Reyes, was handed over to police and was awaiting arraignment on unspecified charges.
Belize expressed regret over the boy’s death and said it has requested help from the Organization of American States to establish the facts of the shooting.
Guatemala and Belize, a former British colony, have a territorial dispute that dates back more than 150 years. Guatemala recognized Belizean independence in 1991 but still claims parts of the country’s territory as its own.
Associated Press writer Sonia Perez D. reported this story in Guatemala City and AP writer Patrick E. Jones reported from San Ignacio, Belize.