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Feb 25, 2000

BDF/Police Patrol detained in Guatemala

At news time tonight, three members of the Belize Defense Force and a Belizean Police Officer are still being held by Guatemalan authorities. Technical talks in Miami between the two countries have been suspended until their release. Sources inside the BDF tell News Five that around 10:00 yesterday morning, a Belizean border patrol, consisting of Second Lieutenant Romaldo Herrera, Lance Corporal Lucio Arana, Private Luciano Tzub and Police Constable Macedonio Sanchez, were in an area somewhere between the Treetops Observations Post, south of Jalacte Village, and San Vincente Village in the Toledo District. According to our source, the patrol was about a quarter mile inside the Belizean border when they were surrounded and held at gunpoint by an estimated twenty-five officers of the Guatemalan Army. The soldiers claimed that were in Guatemalan territory. It is assumed that the Belizean patrol was disarmed at that point. Our source says the BDF patrol marked the spot where the incident occurred using the Global Positioning System (GPS) and was then escorted to a base in Military Zone 23 in Guatemala. The patrol was able to use their communication device to call Treetops to inform them of what was happening. A press release, issued around 8:30 last night from the BDF, says the BDF/Police patrol agreed to go with the Guatemalan army to quote “prevent an incident that could have led to the loss of life.” Talks between Belizean and Guatemalan military officials began immediately. The Belizeans spent the night in a Guatemalan Detention Center and according to our source, they have indicated they are being treated humanely. Senior military commanders and survey technicians from both Belize and Guatemala have met at the border in Santa Cruz, Guatemala, to verify exactly where the incident took place. The team’s findings have not yet been released to the press. However, the Guatemalan version of what happened is quite different. Prensa Libre is reporting that at a press conference held last night in Guatemala City, the Guatemalan Police Public Relations Officer, Gerson Lopez, said the Belizeans were captured about two and a half miles inside Guatemalan territory near the village of San Francisco, Peten. Reports are it is Guatemala’s intention to charge the Belizean soldiers with illegal entry and possession of prohibited firearms. Today a press release from The Office of the Prime Minister Said Musa says he has requested that the Guatemalan President, Alfonso Portillo, release the Belizean officers immediately. He has also filed a formal protest about the Guatemalan soldiers crossing into Belizean territory. Belizean and Guatemalan diplomats were supposed to meet today in Miami for “technical meetings,” which were a prelude to higher level, head of government, meetings on the dispute later, but Belize has suspended the talks until the soldiers are released. The opposition, the United Democratic Party has issued a statement expressing solidarity with the BDF and the Police Department as well as the families of the captured men. The UDP says they are ready to lobby for international support to get the men home. The Prime Minister is holding a press conference tomorrow, Saturday, at 11:00am at the Radisson Fort George to discuss this incident. At this time it is uncertain when the detained Belizean officers will be returning home.

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