BDF hosts press conference on National Security concerns

The BDF held a press conference on Friday, the first of its kind since Danny Conorquie was murdered at the Caracol site on September 25th. National Security issues have come into the public domain since that day, hard and furious. Several other incidents of national security occurred since Mr Conorquie’s death,  including the armed Guatemalan villagers who went to Valentin and threatened Belizean workers and BDF as well as the realization that Guatemalans were building a Belizean Security Fort on Hunting Caye.

The purpose of Friday’s press conference was to update on what the BDF has done since then and what they intend to do to address National Security issues.

Brigadier General David Jones started off by detailing some of the problems that BDF encounters as they patrol the border or carry out intensive quarterly gallops.

 

vlcsnap-2014-10-18-07h12m28s47Brigadier General David Jones – Commander BDF

“The issues along the Chiquibul / Caracol Archaeological Reserve is an existential threat to Belizeans and to Belize.  There are a lot of dangerous activities happening in that area.

To start with, there’s a lot of agricultural incursion, illegal logging, Xate cultivation, gold panning, mining, hunting, poaching of our animals, cattle grazing, even surveying of lands, occurring in the area.

Apart from the areas in the Chiquibul, the entire north and south of the country, there is a lot of contraband activities happening cross border between Belize/Guatmala, also between Belize and Mexico, and there is a lot of drug trafficking activity that occurs in these areas.”

 

At least 14 Guatemalan villages impact the Chiquibul area, as Belize shares 133 miles of border with Guatemala. Of those 133 miles, 51 miles are considered as a hot zone, 19 of which is the Chiquibul.

According to David Jones,  when American helicopters help BDF, the helicopters  stop at the adjacency zone and they must walk into the zone to the line about a mile. Guatemalans found are “escorted back” across the line and not arrested. The most recent gallop was conducted on September 26, one day after Danny Conorquie’s murder.

 

vlcsnap-2014-10-18-07h56m48s46Brigadier General David Jones

“We take charge of the operation, the BDF.  We normally take Special Police Units with us, members from FCD, sometimes Forestry, and these operations primarily are concentrated in the Chiquibul and the Caracol Archaeological Reserve.

The plantations were in excess of over 35 acres. A number of the patrols that have destroyed some of these plantations did not record the exact size, so it would definitely be in excess of 50 acres of plantations that were destroyed in this second operation.

Various clearances were found, and pastures were found in the area, even cattle were grazing in some of the areas that we found. 6

Guatemalans were detained during this second operation and they were released. They weren’t found with anything illegal, but they were escorted back across the border into Guatemala.

During the operation, as normal there has been a network of roads and tracks that we’ve discovered. These lead east to west.  So from inside Guatemala they come into Belize. They come in to do their illegal activities, be it either extracting Xate or logwood, mostly logwood, and then what has been prominent now, apart from the planting of vegetation, marijuana is being planted a lot in our country, and we suspect it’s mainly from Guatemalans, because it’s so close to the border.

We don’t expect Belizeans to be travelling that far into the jungle to go and plant marijuana that far or even crops as well.  So marijuana cultivation has become prominent very close to our border.

When we do get support of helicopters from the US Army, there is a restriction as to how far the helicopters can go into the AZ so we don’t normally get them in there. We would normally be dropped off, and then our patrols would walk into the AZ, to cover the marijuana plantations that are inside.  But the helicopters are not normally allowed to go probably within a mile from the border, just to avoid any incidents between another third party”

 

vlcsnap-2014-10-18-07h20m19s251According to David Jones, when they went in for the latest gallop, they are seeing less activities of Guatemalan incursion which causes them to believe that the patrols are working. The plantations that are found 300 to 400 meters into Belize should really be reported to OAS according to confidence building measures. Joint patrols with the Guatemalan army are being organized along the zone and intelligence sharing is also occurring regarding border incidents.  

 

Brigadier General David Jones

“They will work closer with our military, with our security forces, with our police, and we will work jointly together to try and stop their civilians from coming across.

So it doesn’t matter how much resources we have, how many man power we have, it won’t be very successful unless Guatemala plays a part. They are our neighbor.

If they can stop or dissuade their people from coming into Belize,  it will help us a great deal. We will still put the necessary resources to stop whatever encroachment. illegal or criminal activity that comes over to Belize, but Guatemala has to play a part, and they have pledged to play a part.

If they implement what they have pledged, what we will see in the Chiquibul, the Caracol Archaeological Reserve, is a significant reduction of encroachment and illegal activities occurring inside Belize. This will also minimize the eventuality of armed exchange of gun fire between the security forces and Guatemalans. It will also reduce the tension between our country and also reduce the criminal violence and encounters.”

 

As to the investigation of Danny Conorquie’s murder, Brig. Gen. Jones says they are narrowing in on the murderer.

 

Brigadier General David Jones

“What the Guatemalans had also pledged is to assist us as much as possible, as much as they’re capable, to try and find the person who committed the murder of Danny Conorquie.

They have exchanged information. They have intelligence information on that incident.  Our Police Department has intelligence information.  They are now sharing and in the process of working together, to try and find out who this person is.

We already have an idea.  We know which village he came from, and we already suspect that he is the person that owns the same horses that we had captured.

So it shouldn’t take very long, as long as they cooperate with us, we should be able to find who committed that murder.”

 

Next week we’ll have more from the BDF press conference including their budget for carrying out these operations as well as issues with their resources, uniforms and other complaints we have been receiving.

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