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May 17, 2016

Who Detained Roger Plett and Why?

That brings us to officialdom – first the Police. San Ignacio Police aren’t talking. They would only say that an investigation is underway and a release was sent out from the Commissioner’s Office on Monday. We never got that release. They cannot provide any other information because of the sensitive nature of the incident – anything else, they say, would have to come from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Today, we spoke to C.E.O. Lawrence Sylvestre who explained that they cannot move until they have received a report from the Police, which has not come in yet. Sylvestre maintains that his office has verified with their Guatemalan counterparts that there were no military officers in that area last Thursday. So let’s wrap this up, as much as we can with what we’ve gotten so far. Mike Rudon has the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

There was a large fire on Thursday in an area behind Spanish Lookout known as Green Hills. From footage we’ve gotten you can see the remains of it. That footage also shows that there were flames on both sides of the border. On the left of that path there is Belize, the Plett’s farm. On the right is Guatemala. We are told from Manuel Ayala, foreman of the Plett’s farm, that they were using heavy equipment to fight the fire on their side, and he says they were joined by members of Guatemalan forest-protection N.G.O.s on the border line, doing the same thing.

 

Manuel Ayala

Manuel Ayala, Foreman of Plett Farm

“While we were working we met some civilian people there which they claimed to be from CONAP and other organizations that protect the jungle. They were with us in a peaceful way working, everyone working I would say hand in hand.”

 

But somewhere along the way things went wrong. Guatemalan press have stated that the fire was set deliberately by Belizeans. What seems apparent is that there was fire on both sides of the border, but Plett says that they didn’t start it.

 

Roger Plett

Roger Plett, Alleges Detention by Guatemalan

“We had…further in the Belizean side a controlled fire…fire lines, we had our tractor, we had our loader, we had our grader there so the fire wouldn’t cross over. We had the fire contained when we noticed about five hundred meters to the South here was a fire starting. We had a fire line going from East to West so the fire couldn’t cross over that way. But now the fire started on that side of the fire line. So we took our equipment and we started opening a fire line closer to the border line so the fire on that side wouldn’t cross over. We didn’t set fire to that piece, but since we had a fire here going we went and so it wouldn’t cross to the Guatemalan side…we were opening another fire line so it wouldn’t cross over. But with the high gusts of winds the fire still jumped the fire line that we had made now there. But in truth we did not set fire to that one there. Our fire was contained. This was another fire that started further down South. So that is the fire that crossed into the Guatemalan side.”

 

Now fire aside, what about the alleged detention of Plett. He claims he was seized by Guatemalan military and civilians. We got these pictures from the Facebook page of Guatemalan Luis Gongora, who allegedly works with an agency that protects forests. They show the fire-fighting efforts on the Guatemalan side in that very area on Thursday, caused by what Gongora says are careless Belizeans with bad-intentions. Look at the men in camouflage uniform in the pictures. They match the description of the military given by Roger Plett, including the black rope on the shoulder. It’s exceptionally likely that these men are the ones who marched Plett into Guatemalan territory, from where he says he knew was Belizean territory.

 

Roger Plett

“Why I know I was in the Belizean side is because the same line they use as a fire line in the forest – they have it chopped clean and there are two to three foot high cement pillars every quarter mile along that line. We’ve had people in the past – because Guatemalans in the past have tried to say that we have went into their side. So we’ve had people, officials in the past saying that we are completely on the Belizean side and we respect this line as the border line from what the officials have told us. The same Guatemalan people were saying that we can clear up to that line but we cannot cross that line, but we leave a couple feet of forest from the line just to show them that we indeed respect the line.”

 

So what really happened that Thursday? Very possibly a combination of a fire that got out of control and crossed borders…and Guatemalans who got angry about the fire, blamed the closest Belizeans and decided to do something about it. Now what happens next…well that’s anybody’s guess. Mike Rudon for News Five.

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