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BDF asserts right to work in Sarstoon area

Saturday, August 8th, 2015. Aaron Humes Reporting: While refraining from any suggestion of misleading statements, Commander of the Belize Defence Force Brigadier General David Jones refuted the position of Guatemalan foreign minister Carlos Morales as presented a few weeks ago that Belize nor Guatemala would increase the number of military bases at the border, per alleged inclusion in the Confidence Building Measures agreements of 2000 and 2005.

Jones told 7 News, “In the Confidence Building Measures, it doesn’t specifically say that we are restricted from constructing military bases along the border. BDFWhat I do recall is in the Confidence Building Measures is that the other nation – each nation is not supposed to be expressing or showing that they are exerting their sovereignty over the other.

But it doesn’t restrict us from actually constructing other bases. The measures primarily address the western portion of the border, from up Arenal down to south where Cadenas is. But it didn’t really specifically address the area of the Sarstoon.”

Jones suggested that the Guatemalan interpretation is “different” from Belize but maintains that the restriction Morales spoke of does not exist.

Guatemala objected to a building of the forward operating base on Sarstoon Island until Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington reassured that the BDF had no part in it and there was no intention of amassing military presence at the border, only to curb illicit activity in the area, most of which originates from Guatemala.

According to Jones, the Coast Guard is considered here as a military organization because they train along with the BDF, but they are treated separately internationally. While Belize maintains sovereignty north of the central border line through the river and Guatemala south, the two must work together through a joint base.

Since the BDF already operates in the area with an observation post at Cadenas, the officers will be working directly with the Coast Guard in any event – the exact nature will be determined by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and National Security, the latter directly responsible for defence including the BDF and Coast Guard.

The BDF retains advice on the ground in tactical situations, but will leave the diplomacy to the politicians.

Jones contends, “We need to have a base there for our own strategic reasons. There a number of illicit activities occurring at the Sarstoon, a part from the international narco-trafficking that goes there. There is a lot of illegal fishing, illegal poaching that happens on the mainland and there is illegal logging that happens north of the river itself which we as the Belize Defence Force are interested to stop.

So it is our interest to have a base there to stop the illegal activities from international players and also from our neighboring players from Guatemala that are doing illegal activities in the area.”

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