Guatemala sets stage for referendum over Belize border

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, who assumed power in 2016, restarted the process for a referendum on the Belize border dispute

Guatemala is preparing the ground for an April referendum called to help solve a long-simmering border dispute with neighboring Belize, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.

The country has launched a web platform and Facebook and Twitter accounts to give information about the disagreement and the consequences of the matter ending up before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Deputy Foreign Minister Estuardo Roldan told reporters.

The referendum is scheduled for April 15, with 7.5 million voters to be asked if they agree to submit the issue to the ICJ based in The Hague.

The lack of a mutually accepted border between the two Central American countries has been a source of frequent tension.

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

In 2016, Guatemala deployed 3,000 troops to the disputed border after a Guatemalan teenager was fatally shot in the area.

Although Guatemala blamed Belize for that death, an investigation by the Organization of American States (OAS) found Belize's defense forces were not responsible.

Under an OAS-supervised deal dating back to 2008, both Guatemala and Belize agreed that the border dispute should be settled by the ICJ, whose role is to decide territorial and maritime differences.

But Guatemala in 2013 froze the required referendum process, which was only restarted under current Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, who took power in 2016.

Belize has not yet fixed a date for its own referendum on the issue.