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Jul 6, 2004

B.D.F. volunteers train in counter terrorism

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Each year around this time we try to cover the training exercise of the BDF volunteer element. Usually the story takes us to the Mountain Pine Ridge or dense jungle of the Cayo, Stann Creek or Toledo Districts. This morning, however, our coverage was much closer to home…

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

If you recently travelled to the Philip Goldson International Airport, you could not help but notice the presence of an unusual number of Belize Defence Force soldiers. No, the country has not come under attack; these men and women are members of the army?s volunteer element who are being trained to fight terrorism.

Lt. Col. Edmund Zuniga, Commander, BDF Volunteer Element

?Critical I would say, not because I am the commander of the element, but we are, I would say, a third of the B.D.F.?s fighting strength.?

Although these soldiers would not be in the first line of defence, as a support group, they must know how to respond to all threats to the nation. In this year?s exercise, dubbed Moonraker, the soldiers are on the lookout for a group of terrorists who have threatened to disrupt services at the P.G.I.A.

Major Francis Marin, Operations Officer, Moonraker

?We assume that there is a wealthy terrorist, Lee Hafatt, known as the Lion, was able to gather a few of his supporters and he is intent on destructing the normal operations of our major national asset, the international airport. We as the volunteers are going to use our two hundred and fifty plus soldiers to ensure that nothing happens at the international airport to hinder or delay the arrival and departure of our international flights and also our local flights.?

Since the Belize Defence Force was established in 1978, its voluntary element has been very much an integral part of the B.D.F. According to Volunteer Element Commander, Lt. Col. Edmund Zuniga, the volunteers played an important role in helping to restore order during the 1981 Heads of Agreement uprising.

Lt. Col. Edmund Zuniga

?We supported the regular force. While the regular force was out doing counter anti-riot drills, we were out ensuring that the key points were properly guarded and secured and so on. So, we were also on the streets, side by side with our regular counterparts.?

The camp tests each volunteer?s skills to see if they are battle ready and equipped for the four years they have committed themselves to the army.

Lt. Col. Edmund Zuniga

?The volunteer soldier signs for four years each time and we go through this rotation, this training rotation where we ensure that the soldier gets all the skills required to perform at maximum capacity by the time he reaches the end of four years service. Volunteers come from all walks of life, we are civilians, we have our civilian jobs and so on, but we train in the evenings. Each location, each district town has a volunteer element. People turn out two evenings per week, for two hours each time; one weekend per month and then we terminate with annual camp.?

This year?s exercise does not have the full complement of the B.D.F.?s four hundred volunteers, however, operations officer Major Francis Marin believes that at the end of the four-day camp, the unit will be much stronger and more capable to deal with any situation.

Major Francis Marin, Operations Officer, Moonraker

?We are hoping to achieve an increased skill level in our individual soldiers; to respond individually to a counter terrorist operation and also to increase our individual skills in the areas of searching, identification of explosive device, checking vehicles, boats if necessary, and aircraft, and also to response to immediate information.?

While the volunteers did not manage to catch their suspects while the media was on tour, it?s more than likely they will be successful by the time the exercise comes to an end on Thursday. Until then, you can expect to see these men and women on guard in the bush and villages surrounding P.G.I.A.

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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