Sarstoon Forward Operating Base officially Opens

vlcsnap-2016-04-21-09h56m16s890The very controversial Forward Operating Base built on the Southern most part of the Belize Side of the Sarstoon River, was officially opened vlcsnap-2016-04-21-12h07m49s709Wednesday April 20.  Ground breaking for the base was in December of last year and some 4 months later, the base is now complete. The inauguration was done amidst heavy security presence from the BDF and Belize Coast Guard since there has been much tension and conflict over the building of the base. In fact, just last month, on March 12, GAF accosted BDF personnel near the then under construction Forward Operatign Base.   The Government of Belize issued a statement on that incident saying that GAF approached the FOB, though they never actually attempted to come on to our land, and “..behaved in an extremely hostile and threatening manner, insisting that our troops should not be at the Sarstoon. The Belize Forces stood their ground and after some time the GAF withdrew”.  There have been several encounters since then with Belizeans on the Sarstoon who have been stopped by GAF saying that permission is nee4ded from the Guatemalan Army if Belizeans want to travel the Sarstoon. Well, today, despite all that , marked the official opening of the FOB. The Minister of National Security spoke about the plans for the base as it relates to the operations to be carried out there.

John Saldivar, Minister of National Security: Mainly law enforcement, the various laws of Belize as they pertain to whether it be vlcsnap-2016-04-21-12h13m26s195fisheries, whether it be immigration, whether it be trafficking—trafficking of humans, guns, drugs—law enforcement is going to be our main focus. But our presence here certainly establishes our intention to maintain our sovereignty and integrity at the same time.

While the base was being inaugurated, Guatemalan fishermen could be seen in Belizean waters fishing. Also, the Guatemalan Armed boats were also in Belizean waters while the ceremony was ongoing. In fact, just like in December at the groundbreaking, a Guatemalan drone hovered right above the Forward Operating Base for some minutes before moving on. Minister John Saldivar was asked to comment on those activities .

vlcsnap-2016-04-21-11h57m06s682John Saldivar, Minister of National Security: This base will assist quite a bit in law enforcement. We have to recognize that it is an area of conflict and it is an area of dispute I should say, where the Guatemalans do not agree in terms of our boundaries and so on and so we are looking for mechanisms to make sure that we can get along properly in this area but recognizing what our boundaries are.

At today’s event, the Belizean flag and the BDF flag were flying at the new base, but there was no sign of the Coast Guard flag. The media asked Commandant John Borland if that is any indication that the Coast Guard would not be utilizing the base.

John Borland, Commandant- Belize Coast Guard: Joint services means it will be occupied by members of the B.D.F.; there has to be a vlcsnap-2016-04-21-12h08m38s865police officer as well and then the Coastguard that will take care of the maritime component. The responsibility of policing the river is for the B.D.F. along with the police. And everything in the littorals is the responsibility of the Coastguard so we are going to be conducting joint operations here.

Borland says the facility is built to occupy at least a dozen people and plans are to staff it with 8 BDF members, 4 Coast Guards, and perhaps one police officer. Borland was also asked to comment on the Guatemalans presence in Belizean waters today and the drone in Belize’s airspace. This is his response.

John Borland, Commandant- Belize Coast Guard: One of the Coast Guard’s responsibilities at this location will be to deal with illegal fishing and what we saw here today will be addressed in the very short span of time because the Coastguard is coming out here to do its job—vlcsnap-2016-04-21-12h22m32s705to act responsibly, but to enforce all our maritime laws within our sea spaces. It is a breach of our security and it’s an act of brazenness on whoever sent that drone over here and it should not be condoned and it should be addressed. The same thing happened when we were here for the groundbreaking ceremony and again it is being repeated. We did address it at that time that it is not a welcomed gesture for whoever is responsible and I hope we do so again. It should not be countenanced; it is a breach of our sovereignty, it is a breach of our airspace and it really is nothing but outright disrespectful

The Forward Operating Base cost approximately one hundred thousand dollars to be build at that site .

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