Belize edges toward independence, keeps wary eye on Guatemala

As Guatemalan, British, and Belizean officials meet in New York to discuss the British colony's future, Belize Premier George Price says he expects independence by the end of 1981.

In what he called a "white paper" that he presented to the Central American colony's national assembly, Mr. Price recently assured Belizeans that independence will be "safe and secure."

"The United Kingdom government has assured the government of Belize that it will see us faithfully through independence," he said. Exuding optimism about his long-sought goal, Mr. Price said that talks between British and Belizean officials will get under way in London sometime in March. Independence, he said , could follow as early as Sept. 10, Belizean National Day.

The colony has been in British hands since the early 1800s and was formerly known as British Honduras. Its name was changed to Belize, the name of the capital city, when Mr. Price's government assumed internal self- government in 1964. The capital has since been moved to the interior at Belmopan.

Guatemala ha claimed the 8,867-square- mile colony as it own. Guatemalan maps and postage stamps invariably include Belize as part of Guatemala.

It is thought that Belize has sizable quantities of oil, for Guatemala's oil fields are near the Belize border. But geological studies have yet to locate much oil in Belize.

The Guatemalan claim to the British colony -- occasionally accompanied by saber rattling -- has delayed independence. But now the Conservative government of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has agreed to continue providing security for Belize once it becomes independent, reversing British policy.

The New york talks, which got under way Feb. 5, will likely have little effect on the coming London talks. But they could set the stage for some sort of economic union between Guatemala and Belize.

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