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Feb 29, 2000

Guatemala judge says investigation may lengthy

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There’s good news and bad news coming out of Guatemala tonight. The good news is that after almost six days in captivity the four Belizeans being held in Peten jail will go before a judge. The bad news, however, is that once they make their appearance, the preliminary investigation could take three months. News Five’s Janelle Chanona and Rick Romero are just back from across the border with a full report.

Today marks the sixth day that three Belizean soldiers and a Belizean police officer have been illegally detained by the Guatemalan military. The officers are confident that they did nothing wrong but realize they could be in custody for quite sometime. They are trying to make the best of their situation.

Second Lieutenant, Romaldo Herrera

“During the day we are allowed to move about, not locked up twenty-four seven. At night, we are locked up but during the day we move about. They have a small volleyball court, which the police use constantly. Most of us just play cards or have a punching bag inside, where we try to relieve stress.”

Wednesday in Poptun, the Belizeans will give a declaration, stating why they wear uniforms, carry weapons and what it is they were doing and where they were, when they were met the Guatemalan military. The soldiers have been charged with possession of an offensive weapon and transporting prohibited ammunition. The police officer is charged with possession of a defensive weapon. Their case will be investigated by Guatemala’s Public Ministry and then brought before Magistrate Marco Posados Pechilla.

Magistrate, Marco Posados Pechilla

“This court examines the findings that the Public Ministry produces within a period of three months; the three months if the prisoners are in prison or six months if they are out on bail. If I feel there is enough evidence for the matter to go to trial, it will go to trial.

Here in Guatemala, our law guarantees that we are all innocent until proven otherwise, and people are tried on that system, that principle of innocence. So rumors or what appears in the press cannot be taken into account.”

Janelle Chanona

Here in Santa Elena, Peten, feelings are mixed about the Belizean soldiers. Some say they were captured simply to divert attention from national problems.

Male Guatemalan Citizen #1

“I hope this can be resolved soon so that the relations can go back to being friendly. The Government is diverting attention from how we are living, what we are going through. They are making us feel that there are other issues that they need to deal with, when it’s the economy that’s the problem.”

Male Guatemalan Citizen #2

“It is good they, the Belizeans, experience being captured. And let the law take its course. And if Belizeans don’t want respect our rights we have to respond. Belize doesn’t respect Guatemala and Guatemala doesn’t respect Belize. The authorities need to establish a law that will make the countries respect each other.”

Female Guatemalan Citizen

“As Guatemalans, we have to understand that at one point, Belize belonged to Guatemala but is now an independent country. I’m glad that they can exist on their own. I think the soldiers should be sent to their country.”

Even though the government has insisted the kidnapped Belizeans will not admit to any wrongdoing, they are stepping up the defenses. While officials in Santa Elena pursue the legal angle, Belmopan navigates the diplomatic channels, trying to lobby support from the international community.

Romaldo Herrera

“I guess something weird about BDF, most of the time, they are always motivated. Reference training, most of the time, when they talk to you about this it’s usually in a war time scenario, not in peacetime scenarios. Actually you don’t expect to be captured during peacetime. Apart from that, just have to mark time, be patient. The patrol itself, the four of us, we’re just waiting out, hopes high as usual. Confident because we’re pretty sure we were in Belize, we did nothing wrong. So we are pretty confident we’ll get out of this.”

Police Constable, Macedonio Sanchez

“I would just like to tell my girlfriend that I still love her and I am just waiting for this to resolve and I’ll be back home.”

Lance Corporal, Lucio Arana

“I’m still on top of things as usual. Just keep tight and I’ll be home soon.”

BDF Private, Luciano Tzub

“To my family, just tell them hello and I’m alright at this moment. I’ll soon be out of this place.”

Romaldo Herrera

“We’re all in good health. Just be patient and I’m pretty sure this will soon be over.”

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