BDF asserts right to work in Sarstoon area

While refraining from any suggestion of impropriety on his part, Commander of the Belize Defence Force Brigadier General David Jones has 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. As we told you on Friday, Jones’ memory of the Confidence Building Measures documents does not specifically restrict either country from constructing military bases along the border – only from using them to exert sovereignty. And those measures are mostly applicable to the western border rather than the South. Jones suggested that the Guatemalan interpretation is “different” from Belize but maintains that the restriction Morales spoke of does not exist. Guatemala had 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. But he expects that the BDF can still use the base and collaborate with their brothers in the Coast Guard.

Brig. General David Jones – BDF Commandervlcsnap-2015-08-10-10h15m10s62

“For Belize’s perspective, there isn’t really a necessity. Because we in Belize, we consider the Coast Guard also as a military organization. Internationally, people may think otherwise. But they have been doing training with us, so we have no objection in categorizing the Coast Guard as a military as well. But that base is particularly important because there is a lot of narco-traffic activity that occurs in the Sarstoon. North of the central line that runs through the river belongs to Belize in our mind and south in their mind belongs to them. So if anything occurs north of the river, technically they don’t have any rights or jurisdiction to interdict anything that happens there and it’s the same for us. If anything happens south of the median line, we don’t have that jurisdiction. So it’s only sensible that both of us have a base there and both of us work jointly together to interdict whatever comes through the Sarstoon.”

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. Lost among the hubbub over the plans for the base are why it is needed. Guatemala’s jitters aside, General Jones says the sooner the base can be built, the sooner illegal activities, some of which originate from Guatemala, can be stopped.

Brig. General David Jones

“Not really. I would not say we are short handed. They have a base there, it does not mean that we should have a base there to oppose them. It does not make sense that just because a military organization has a military base bordering mean that you put a base there just to watch each other. It does not make any sense. It seems like a bit of escalation. We need to have a base there for our own strategic reasons. There are a number of illicit activities occurring  at the Starstoon. A part from the international narco- trafficking  that goes there, there is a lot of illegal fishing, illegal poaching that happens on the main land and there is illegal logging that happens north or the river itself which we as the Belize Defense Force are interested to stop. It is in our interest to have a base there to stop the illegal activities from international players and also from our neighboring players from Guatemala who are doing illegal activities in the area.”

 According to Jones the go-ahead has been given but the date for actual construction to begin remains in the hands of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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