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Sep 1, 2015

COLA Joins BTV in Returning to Sarstoon Island

Another expedition to the Sarstoon by the Belize Territorial Volunteers took place early this morning. The group has committed to trek to the Sarstoon every Tuesday, which is the day when the Belize Defense Force carries out a patrol to Cadenas, an observation post along the bank of the Sarstoon River. But the B.D.F. was a no-show today…at least to the BTV. According to COLA, the situation got testy when a Guatemalan gunboat set chase after the BTV well within Belize’s territorial waters. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports on this morning’s incident.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Members of the Belize Territorial Volunteers and COLA have journeyed up the Sarstoon River for a second time since venturing into the somewhat hostile area on August sixteenth.  While the group has shrunken in size considerably, the three-member team headed out early this morning in attempt to catch B.D.F. personnel en route to Cadenas.  According to Wil Maheia, they did not witness that changeover today.

 

On the phone: Wil Maheia, Founding Member, Belize Territorial Volunteer

Via Phone: Wil Maheia

“This morning we decided to leave really early, even earlier than last week because, you know that last week BDF had a jump on us.  They left earlier than expected.  This week we wanted to make sure that they didn’t leave before us so we got up at the break of dawn and put our boats in the water and began heading towards Sarstoon.  But up until ten, eleven o’clock there was no sign of the BDF showing up so we figured that they normally wouldn’t go up the river that late in the afternoon so we turned around.”

 

Accompanying Maheia on the predawn trip was Harley Burn, more popularly known as River of Fire.  He has been appointed as COLA’s liaison with BTV on their weekly missions to the distant location.  He shared with us by phone his observations.

 

Harley Burn

On the phone:  Harley Burn, Liaison Officer, COLA

“When we got close to the Sarstoon Island the Guatemalan gunboat that is normally out there, the one that ran up on the reef, that one was out there and when got close they called in a second boat that came out, coming towards us because we were near the shallow so the gunboats really couldn’t come and give chase so they called the smaller boat out to give chase to us and when we turned and went around they gave up because they were coming more and more

into Belizean waters.”

 

The presence of COLA on the weekly excursions to Sarstoon Island is part of a sustained campaign to force government to build a forward operating base at the location, remove Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington from office and revisit all standing agreements with Guatemala.

 

On the phone:  Harley Burn

“The prime minister seems to be misinformed as to what is going on in the country because he said on television to the public that he knows that every Tuesday there is a transfer of soldiers from Cadenas, and there is no such transfers today. The procedure that was witnesses last week with the B.D.F. being followed up the coast and then following them back and giving chase to them was the same thing that we saw today. So they didn’t come out so the Guatemalan Navy was at their minimal. I remind the people that the Guatemalan Navy does not have a really large force out there, maybe 4 boast total. Our people need to realize that it is up to us as the people of this country. We really have to get together as a people and realize that the support of this effort is necessary because we can’t do this on our own.”

 

BTV, for its part, has welcomed COLA in joining the effort but Wil Maheia told News Five that the initiative is one that all Belizeans should also support financially.

 

On the phone: Wil Maheia

“We are glad to see that COLA has taken the initiative to be a regular part of the territorial volunteers and according to COLA they are going to be coming every week and they have actually contributed some money to the fuel that we used today. So that is definitely welcomed, as you know to make these trips we need lots of fuel around 50 gallons of fuel per week and for that to happen, there are times that we are going to be needing more than that. We are appealing to the Belizean public to donate to our fuel bill. We have an account at the Belize Bank under the name of Belize territorial Volunteers, even if it is just one gallon of gas; Because if we have fifty people donating every week we would be good to go.”

 

Isani Cayetano reporting for News Five.

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