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Feb 27, 2001

Border agency under fire in Guatemalan’s death

There is trouble at the border tonight and we are not referring to illegal Guatemalan settlements in Toledo. Instead the problems centre around the frontier post at Benque Viejo and the role of a newly created government body which may have overstepped its authority. That body, the Border Management Agency, has been ordered by the Prime Minister to suspend all border patrol activities pending an investigation into the death of a Guatemalan who died in the Mopan River on Saturday. According to police reports, the Guatemalan, twenty-nine year old Lenin Garcia, was attempting to illegally re-enter Guatemala at a location near the Benque border post. When he saw a BMA officer accompanied by a dog, he became frightened and attempted to swim across the river, while his brother remained on the bank. Garcia subsequently drowned although his body was not recovered until Monday. The Guatemalans, however, are telling a different tale. Their version, according to Garcia’s brother Victor, is that the pair were headed into Belize enroute to the U.S.A. “through the back.” When they reached the Belize side of the Mopan, they were set upon by vicious hunting dogs and beaten by border officers with the result that Garcia fell mortally wounded into the swift waters. While no one on this side is accepting those Guatemalan press reports as anything but the usual jingoistic rabble rousing, relations between the two countries are sensitive enough for Prime Minister Musa to put the BMA under heavy manners. News 5 this afternoon spoke to Border Management Agency chairman Evan Tillett who told us that his agency’s role is to complement the work of customs and immigration and not to take over their responsibility. “The BMA was formed to raise the standards and efficiency of the international border posts,” said Tillett. He went on to deny that his personnel patrol the border, saying that they deal with the management of the area around the government compound. The dog in question was an experiment, he said, which had been hired on two occasions in January and a couple more in February. On the day in question Tillett said the dog and its handler never got closer than a hundred yards from Garcia and the BMA immediately referred the matter to police. A police investigation is underway and Garcia’s body was due to undergo a postmortem this afternoon at the San Ignacio Hospital. The Border Management Agency operates under the authority of the Ministry of Tourism.

In related news, despite the recent flap, officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expect the evacuation of Guatemalan residents from three illegal settlements in Belize to proceed as scheduled on Wednesday.

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