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Mar 15, 2016

B.D.F. Threat Assessment Speaks to Several Areas of Concern in Sarstoon Area

It is not the first time that hostility has been displayed towards the Belizean military by the Guatemala navy. In fact, alarm bells were sounded since last year that the Guatemalan Armed Force was behaving confrontational. A report from the Belize Defense Force back in 2015, records instances where the navy became aggressive toward the B.D.F. and Belizeans. That threat assessment was submitted to the Ministry of National Security dated October, 2015 and leaked to the media. Tonight, News Five’s Isani Cayetano looks at two instances outlined in the assessment.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Another standoff involving Guatemalan Armed Forces and personnel from the Belize Defense Force on Sarstoon River this past weekend, has brought into sharp focus, yet again, continued hostilities between both countries.  A direct consequence of the longstanding territorial dispute, principally Guatemala’s claim over parts of southern Belize, what took place at the site of the Forward Operating Base on Saturday is armed aggression that dates back to 2006.

 

David Jones

Brig. Gen. David Jones, Commander, Belize Defense Force [File: January 13th, 2016]

“As you are aware, they believe that the entire river belongs to them and it’s only the baseline of the land portion that we have jurisdiction to work on which we of course have a different view.  A military solution is not the best option.  It’s not the best option for Belize, of course, and it’s certainly not the best option for Guatemala.  It’s better that we cooperate with each other because we have the same challenge and issues along the Sarstoon and it’s best that we work together.  But at the end of the day the military won’t be the forces to provide a solution in that area, we will just execute what our political directives are.”

 

Notwithstanding a willingness to work together with Guatemalan military, the brass of the B.D.F., by extension the National Security Council, is fully aware of the dangers that soldiers face when traversing the area.  Those instances have been carefully documented in a threat assessment submitted to the Ministry of National Security on October twenty-second, 2015.

 

That report has since been disclosed.  Details of two particular incidents, a few months earlier, have been accounted, including an encounter on August eleventh, while a patrol was en route to Cadenas Observation Post.  That patrol, quote, approached the south of the Sarstoon Island where a Guatemalan Army vessel quickly intercepted the B.D.F. vessel, nearly causing a collision.  A member of the Guatemalan Army told the patrol to use the northern channel because there were too many nets on the south side of the island.  The commander of the B.D.F. vessel stated that he will continue using the southern channel and ignored the Guatemalan Army personnel.  The patrol was followed until they almost reached Cadenas.  Post changeover, the GAF personnel were waiting for the B.D.F. patrol near the Sarstoon Island to escort them out of the river, unquote.

 

That description is quite lucid.  Conversely, Commander Jones’ told News Five days later that the patrol was not being chased upstream or out of the area.

 

Brig. Gen. David Jones [File: Sept. 2nd, 2015]

“When our vessels go into the mouth of the Sarstoon, as soon as they’ve passed the river, especially going out or going towards Cadenas, our vessel would pick up speed.  They are going at a rapid pace because it’s over an hour’s journey; sometimes it takes up to two hours to go there.  So we’re not going to move out there at a slow rate, we’re going to go pretty fast.  If the Guatemalans decide to follow our vessel they will have to do the same, they would have to go at a speed to follow us.  When we’re coming out of the Sarstoon, as soon as we leave the island and we’re heading back to Punta Gorda we would definitely be coming at a high speed because we want to get back to our base as quickly as possible.  And you would notice on the video that after we’ve reached a certain distance they just stopped and they went back on their way.  They were not chasing us.  Chasing us implies that we have done something wrong or we shouldn’t have been in there and they are trying to catch up with us to probably arrest us or something.  That’s not the case.  We normally come out of that place at high speed.  We go in and come out at high speed for the most part.”

 

Wil Maheia

Another incident clearly noted in the report goes back to August twenty-fifth when Wil Maheia led a delegation to Sarstoon Island to erect a Belizean flag.

 

Reporter

“The decision to go and put the Belizean flag on Sarstoon [Island].  That, some would say, is inflammatory.  It’s provoking, it’s provocative.  How would you answer to that?”

 

Wil Maheia, Belize Territorial Volunteers

“I would say, this is Belize.  It’s our country.  Every square inch of this eight, eight, six, seven square miles belongs to us and I believe that nobody should deny us the right to plant a flag to show our patriotism for this country.”

 

The Guatemalan’s responded nonetheless, by removing the flag from the island; subsequently stopping a B.D.F. patrol and informing the vessel commander that the standard had been taken down.  The Guatemalan personnel then told the B.D.F. boat captain that no party should put up any flag on Sarstoon Island because remains under discussion.

 

In the wake of the most recent confrontation, are Wil Maheia and the Belize Territorial Volunteers responsible for escalating tension on the Sarstoon?

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: March 14th, 2016]

“All I am telling you is that in my calculation, there is a cause and effect factor here that can’t be ignored.”

 

Dean Barrow

Reporter

“It sounds like you are casting blame on the visits by the Belize Territorial Volunteers…”

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Sir, I have said what I have said.  In my view, there is a direct causal link between the step up… nobody’s suggesting that before these incidents, there were not little difficulties.  Maybe more than little difficulties.  We spoke about their trying to shadow our people from time to time, but what has changed is that I have not, in my time, know of any official position on the part of Guatemala saying your B.D.F. people will not be able to go up the Sarstoon.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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