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May 2, 2003

5th anniversary of May second hold-up marked

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It was one of the biggest news stories of 1998, but most of you may have forgotten that five years ago on May second, hundreds of our Belizean brothers and sisters were huddled together in fear as armed terrorists ambushed them on the Hummingbird Highway. But this morning, a group of men and women, who will never forget that fateful Saturday, gathered on the scarred spot.

Patrick Jones, Reporting

It was a brief ceremony, but its significance cannot be over stated…a sad reminder of a dark day in our nation’s history. May second, 1998 was a sunny Saturday, but just after nine that morning a group of heavily armed men, ambushed unsuspecting motorists on this stretch of the Hummingbird Highway. In under two hours, more than a hundred and fifty people were taken hostage and robbed of jewellery and money.

But the armed hold-up turned into murder when a young off-duty Belize Defence Force soldier was shot dead. Today, a solitary wooden cross marks the spot where twenty-one year old Private Genario Chi lost his life.

Minster of Defence Sylvia Flores says while most motorists past this humble tribute without a glance, it symbolizes the courage of one Belizean soldier, killed in a cowardly way.

Sylvia Flores, Minster of Defence

“You know memorialising people is important in keeping the morale of any institution together. I feel that when we pause to really think about the life of this soldier, his life taken away from us, from his family in particular, its one way in which we can help to ease the burden of grief that afflicted the family so many years ago.”

Patrick Jones

“Five years after the daring hold-up and cold blooded murder, the police are yet to bring anyone to justice for the crimes. And while the trail of the murderers appears to have gone cold, the memory of that dreadful day remains in sharp focus for those who had to live through it.”

Anthony Chanona, now the Mayor of Belmopan, and his family, were among the fortunate survivors. It was with mixed feelings that he returned to this spot this morning.

Anthony Chanona, Victim of 1998 Hold-Up

“A certain amount of anger. There is still that part of me that is crying out, that these terrorists be brought to justice and its now five years. We know that the police have been working; we know that they had some early leads, we remember a farm down in, the Bowman farm, they found some masks, they matched the ballistics to the evidence that was fond at this site. But five years later nothing really has happened. And so there is a certain amount of anger.”

The only tangible result of the 1998 hold up is this police sub-station, located seventeen miles away in Saint Margaret’s Village, which was built with the assistance of businessmen in the area. So how safe are our highways from a repeat of the 1998 incident?

Sylvia Flores, Minister of Defence

“It’s difficult to say. Because yes, we’ve increased the patrols on our highways, but how do we know that the person with criminal intent is not ambushing us in the wilderness of this highway? How do we know that? How do we really safeguard our highways to the point where we can have a police patrol or a defence patrol on our highways day in and day out, night in and night out? It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be very, very costly. So we are at risk, but we hope and pray that whatever we experienced on our highways in 1998 would not be repeated.”

Patrick Jones

“You said in your speech that at that time we were ill-prepared. Is Belize better prepared?”

Anthony Chanona

“That’s a very good question, Patrick. I would really like to hope, I know back then the Commissioner of Police at that time said that they were going to set up an anti-terrorist unit. And they were going to get in specialists from the U.K. and the U.S. to train our soldiers, our quick response team. Maybe that is there, but I am not aware that there is a terrorist counter strike, quick response team that is in place. If this was happening today, it was at this very hour that this happened, so I am hoping that we can remind ourselves that if we are not properly prepared that we should do so. We owe it to the residents of Belize to have that done.”

While divine intervention is now counted among the choices we have to stave off another mass hold up on our highways, Chanona says the emotional scars are still raw for many of the victims.

Anthony Chanona

“My daughter, she is now eight years old, refuses to wear a chain because of the way it was yanked off her at this site. So I know she is living with that and many more people carry emotional scars. To all the men and women who serve in this country, this ceremony in a way was to hallmark what they do on our borders, that they are not forgotten and that it’s not taken for granted.”

The simple ceremony on the Hummingbird Highway this morning included the laying of a wreath in honour of Private Genario Chi and a prayer of memorial…a tradition that Chanona says should go on.

Anthony Chanona

“I have tried to keep this incident alive. We need to remember. We often tend to try to push things in the back of our mind, if it didn’t happen to me, it didn’t happen. And this happened to Belize. Our country was invaded, we were terrorised and this is the heartland. You don’t get closer to the country of Belize than this site and therefore it’s important that we remember and that we prepare ourselves because it could happen again, God forbid.”

Patrick Jones, for News 5.

No one has ever been arrested and charged in connection with the crimes committed on the Hummingbird Highway on May second, 1998.


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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