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Standoff at Sarstoon: Territorial Volunteers challenge Belize Defence Force

Posted: Tuesday, July 11, 2023. 4:58 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: They risked arrest and Governmental ire, but the Belize Territorial Volunteers made their point on Saturday – that only their constant presence, in their view, will keep the Sarstoon safe and Belizean.

Accompanied by reporters, leader Wil Maheia reached the Sarstoon Forward Operating Base to find, as promised by Belize Defence Force Commander Brigadier General Azariel Loria, soldiers manning the structure, stern-faced and unsmiling, offering no welcome to their fellow Belizeans.

Still, Maheia called it an “improvement” to see no trespass signs and other activity at the base and offered assistance in shoring it up further, but to attorney Audrey Matura, “the fact that the government has to push back is an indication of their failure.” She continued that nothing she saw on Saturday indicated the BDF would be there longer than it took to see off the BTV.

Maheia added, “We have to encourage the government of Belize to do what is right for the Belizean people. This is the Sarstoon River, we need to maintain our presence on this Sarstoon River, and as I was saying earlier, it’s not only about maintaining a presence here but the social, economic, and environmental benefits that come, there are more fish out there today, more shrimp, more turtles, more dolphins as a result of the place being protected over the past few years since we started coming. Then to abandon that will take it right back to where it was before. This is why the BTV is relevant because we have Coast Guard, we have BDF, we have police, but still, there are cracks in there and we come in and fill those cracks and we still find gill nets, we are finding more gill nets than the military right now.”

And on Sunday, they returned to find the base empty, and fulfilled the other part of their mission, at least temporarily, by planting a BTV flag, at least until the evening when BDF soldiers came back and are now occupying the base. Nonetheless, Maheia added, they will continue to make trips there as long as they have the fuel to do so.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Eamon Courtenay conceded in an interview that Belizeans have every right to travel to the area, but as a matter of courtesy and precaution, should inform the BDF before doing so. He added that Cabinet recognizes the urgency of rebuilding the base, and has identified funds to do so, and that construction should start shortly.

 

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