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Feb 28, 2000

Hostages get high powered lawyer

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It is the biggest crisis yet faced by the eighteen-month-old government of Prime Minister Said Musa. Four Belizeans–three soldiers and a policeman–literally kidnapped by a force of approximately twenty-five Guatemalan Army men. Tonight those men–Police Constable Macedonio Sanchez, BDF Private Luciano Tzub, Lance Corporal Lucio Arana and Second Lieutenant Romaldo Herrera–remain in custody at a detention center in Santa Elena, Peten. At this point we know the following: The four Belizeans were on a routine border patrol Thursday morning near Treetops observation post in Toledo. They were captured while resting at a house on the Belize side of the border. Despite their incarceration the men are being treated humanely. Although they are in a civilian jail, their needs are being met primarily by the Guatemalan military. They are visited regularly by Guatemalan human rights advocates. The legal status of the men is unclear. After their abduction, the four were taken before a civilian court in the Guatemalan town of Poptun and charged with possession of illegal firearms. Today they remain in Santa Elena but are scheduled to be taken before a justice of the peace in Flores on Wednesday. Belize’s Ambassador to Guatemala Mike Mena has joined Ambassador Eamon Courtenay in the Peten. And the most important new development is that an attorney has been engaged to provide legal counsel for the men. Telesforo Guerra, who was born in Benque Viejo Del Carmen, is a former Attorney General of Guatemala and with twenty-nine years of experience is reputed to be one of the best legal minds in the country. News Five’s Janelle Chanona and Cameraman Rick Romero spoke with Guerra and the two Belizean ambassadors this morning about the strategy that will be used to bring our boys back.

Janelle Chanona

Today the Belizeans remain prisoners, at Centro Detencion in Santa Elena, Peten. Their lawyer is confident they will beat the case.

Telesforo Guerra, Attorney

“From the legal point of view, they are authorized to have arms because they belong to an army. And I think there was a mistake in the way they were captured. So that will be one of the principal points that I will take over and ask them to let them free.”

Janelle Chanona

Will you be advising these men to make a declaration?

Telesforo Guerra

“Definitely, yes. I have just arrived in Guatemala and I am going right now to the prison and I will tell them to make their declarations and I will be with them in Poptun. Maybe if it is possible today, I don’t think so, but maybe tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”

Janelle Chanona

What exactly they must say in this declaration?

Telesforo Guerra

“Well I think that in order to let them free, there was a mistake in the border where they were captured and if there is a mistake, then there was no intention to commit a crime. So I will ask the judge and ask the prosecutor to let them free most rapid as they can.”

Janelle Chanona

What kind of time are you looking at?

Telesforo Guerra

“If there is no complication, if there is no political incidents, then maybe in less than fifteen days I can try to get them out of the prison.”

Janelle Chanona

Now you mention the word political, do you think the attention this incident has received has been because of political motive?

Telesforo Guerra

“Maybe yes, because of the conditions and some kinds of press are exploiting this thing as a political matter, but from the legal point of view, I think it don’t have to be so. So I will try to get them out of the prisons the sooner as I can.”

Janelle Chanona

Now in their defense, will they have to admit any kind of guilt? Will they have to say they were in Guatemala by accident?

Telesforo Guerra

“Not necessary, but it can be one of the best ways to get them out soon.”

Stewart Krohn, Reporting

Ambassador Eamon Courtenay says while Guerra will explore various possibilities for their defense, the Belize Government has no intention of letting the men plead guilty to being in Guatemalan territory.

Eamon Courtenay, Ambassador

“I have made it very clear to Mr. Guerra that my instructions are that the guys were in Belize. They are not going to admit any guilt, they are not going to admit that they were in Guatemala, and those will be his instructions. And therefore, we will have to work on that basis. That is a position from which we will not move.

I think we don’t know what the Guatemalan legal people are saying, lets star there. You have been reading what the press has got to say so far. I can tell you what our co-ordinates are, I can tell you what our soldiers say. We have the maps and we are fairly confident where our officers were. In fact we have witnesses as to where they were. So we are fairly confident that we can prove that they were in Belize. We are hoping today to see the prosecutor and to see the judge, to understand what they are saying legally, I am not talking politically, or from the press at this stage. So for the very first time this morning we will be go over to Poptun to understand what they are saying legally. And them maybe from there we can take it further.”

Stewart Krohn

Courtenay says he is happy to have Ambassador Mena with him and says the hostages have taken comfort from his presence. Mena says it is clear the men were in Belizean territory and the embassy will do what it can to help obtain their release.

Mike Mena

“Well my embassy will continue to intensify its position to the fact that they were in Belizean territory. As we have always done, as we have always been. They have some sort of kind of warped idea as to where the border passes, but they definitely were on Belize side.”

Eamon Courtenay

“I would like to look at this as an isolated incident. I believe that there is by and large an understanding between the Guatemalan Military and the Belizean military as to where the borderline is, starting all the way up in the north all the way down to Garbutt Falls and down further. I don’t think, and that has been so for many years, that understanding. I think that that position is going to be maintained. I think that once the air clears on this incident, it will go back to joint patrols and back to the status quo. We have for many many years, walked up and down the border without incident and I think that this is just an isolated incident.”

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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