There are many dimensions to the handling of the incident in the Sarstoon and one of them concerns military relations between Belize and Guatemala. Prime Minister Barrow told today’s gathering that one of the reasons why the BTV’s intervention was not needed is that the military, facing severe pressure, are more trained and capable of defending that portion of Belize.
Hon. Dean Barrow: Every Tuesday, The Belize Defense Force takes a replacement contingent of soldiers up our side of the Sarstoon river to our Military outpost at Cadenas and brings back down the river the troops being rotated out from Cadenas. In doing this, and consistent with our assertion of sovereignty we ask neither leave nor license from the Guatemalans. Indeed, our BDF are routinely challenged by the Guatemalans, and has happened just last Tuesday, frequently told to turn back. Our soldiers never retreat and are never deterred by these standoffs. They always complete their mission even when, as also happened last Tuesday, they’re threatened by the Guatemalan navy with the ramming of their boat and or a firefight. In the circumstances, for anyone to claim that there is a sovereignty vacuum regarding our half of the Sarstoon river, or that our troops are anything less that resolute and courageous in retaining our sovereignty does an intolerable service to the brave men and women of the Belize Defense Force and the Belize Coast Guard.
But if that is so, why were the Belize Defence Force and Coast Guard leashed from escorting the BTV’s boats? Rear Admiral John Borland, the Commander of the Coast Guard, insists that while their presence may have escalated affairs, they were never far away.
Admiral John Borland: To go back to what the Prime Minister said, the Coast Guard was out there in a nonmilitary capacity. We were executing our maritime safety mandate to ensure the safety of our people as it applies to transiting the body of water from Baranco to Sarstoon Island and back to Baranco. We made sure that the necessary safety measures were in place and that key among that, was communications with boats that went to the island. In the event that we were required to execute a response for maritime safety purposes, i.e search and rescue. The general a moment ago reiterated the potential prospect of a military to military re-engagement if we happened to be in the area. A military to military engagement when both militaries are on operations and on patrol, can be contained, can be averted between the protocols that exist between both militaries. When we have civilians in the middle, then that is an area where we might not be able to control the actions of our opposite forces and therefore, the reason why, or one of the reasons why the military was not in that expedition on an escort or security roll.
As for the BDF, Brigadier General David Jones says the weekly relief of his soldiers at Cadenas in the west was put off to next week and he has spoken to his opposite number to ensure no trouble. But on the issue of the forward operating base planned for the area, the General now says they may consider other options on the mainland rather than at Sarstoon Island, which was checked over earlier this year and which provoked the first stand-off between the two countries.
B.G. David Jones: As mentioned before, the Sarstoon Island itself, it’s not practical to have a base there even though it is very strategic to say, “yes the island is ours.” But the area is very swampy, even on the Northern Side. We have actually located two areas on the Northern side of the Sarstoon River that may be able to have a building constructed there that can house the soldiers properly. You can go and put a temporary base there but you’d but the soldiers livelihood at peril. It’s better if you do something you do it right, have it constructed properly, so it’s not a matter of just to jump in there and construct a building, because you have to take into consideration the soldiers or the Coast Guard men that will be able to work there because while you are sleeping in your beds they’ll be there killing mosquitoes being at the element getting dengue because there is no water available for them there either. You need to take a lot of things into consideration. Even in battle, even though you have soldiers, what is more important that tactics and operations that you plan is logistics, and having your soldiers out there takes logistics, it’s going to be expensive. You need to think it through before you act, so you need to be more deliberate in your thought process.
On the matter of the base General Jones says they welcome a quick end to the settlement of the issue as they do consider it to be important strategically.