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Jan 7, 2000

D.O.A. to move graves at Yabra

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While some Belizeans have taken exception to the Yabra Development Project in the Albert Division saying it will result in the desecration of an ancestral burial site, the Department of Archaeology said today that construction projects in the area are nothing new. They say that since 1905 various projects have meant graves in this portion of the Yabra Cemetery were moved or built over and the current controversy is more about politics than historical preservation. While they want no part of the politics they say they are standing by to ensure that any graves which do have to move, will be moved properly.

Mark Espat, Area Representative, Albert Division

“The Department of Archaeology will be supervising anything that’s done out there. We do not intend to dig anybody up or get involved with the moving of any graves. They will have their detailed maps, an overseer overseeing the project, and we will leave that decision to them. We are not involved with that side of it.”

Albert Division area representative Mark Espat, who is also the Minister of Tourism and whose portfolio includes the Archaeology Department, made that statement on Wednesday. Today, after a failed attempt on Thursday, someone from the Department of Archaeology was prepared to go on record and say that yes, graves will be disturbed by Espat’s Yabra Development Project. But Allan Moore says this is not the first time graves have been affected by construction work.

Allan Moore, Acting Archaeological Commissioner

“I don’t think you have to tell anybody anything. You can come out here and see old relics. It would be sad, it would be unreasonable of us to say that you come to a burial ground and you won’t find burials. But this area has already been desecrated anyway.”

Desecration or not, today at the site of the Yabra Development Project, News Five watched as a backhoe uncovered two tombs. Deputy Archaeological Commissioner John Morris explained that the D.O.A. will carefully excavate the tombs but will not touch the bones. Where possible, tombs will be relocated to the old Yabra Cemetery but in this case, the tombs will be filled and covered so the project will continue.

John Morris, Deputy Archaeological Commissioner

“As you can tell from the graves you are seeing here, we have these identified, we have these mapped in. When the street, when we place the street back on, they’re going to be on top of the graves, they won’t impact on the graves themselves. If there are any impacts on the graves themselves, it is, we have the technical expertise to transfer the graves somewhere else.”

Acting Archaeology Commissioner Allan Moore says the D.O.A. has assured the man behind the project, Albert Representative Mark Espat, that everything will be done to protect the burials.

Allan Moore

“We have reassured the Minister that we will do the best we can in terms of protecting the burials, the bones of these deceased, respect them and try to take their capstones if we find them, so that they can be consolidated in a new area. So it’s all in harmony with development.”

Q: “Mr. Moore, some people have claimed that their ancestors are buried in this area, and they don’t want to see their graves desecrated, or that’s what they are looking at this as, desecration, what do you say to those people who have family members buried here?”

Allan Moore

“I would say if they were so worried about it, from 1905, they could have done something about it. Clearly, I say again, that this is a political thing, the Department of Archaeology has no desire to enter. Because of burials being here, we should have cared about our loved ones long ago.

We try to form an equilibrium between development and between protecting cultural resources. This no doubt, is one of the hard equilibrium that we have to face. Because we try to create that balance, as I mentioned before. We try to work in harmony with development. We can’t protect the entire Belize in terms of its cultural resources.

But the Department of Archaeology will be out here, monitoring and doing the best we can with the knowledge we have. That’s what we’re trained for and what’s morals and ethics and everything? How we define morals, how we define ethics is according to the profession.”

Janelle Chanona for News Five.

Later in this newscast we will take you to one area of Belize City where development over a cemetery is a way of life.

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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