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BDF Commander speaks of presence in south of the country

Commander of the Belize Defense Force, Brigadier General David Jones was the guest on Love FM’s morning show today.  Jones was asked about Belize’s military presence in the area of the Sarstoon. He said although Belize does not have a base in the Sarstoon, BDF soldiers have been traversing the Sarstoon for decades.

Brigadier General David Jones

“We’ve always had a base in Cadenas which is the south western end of our country. The reason we had a base there is for military reasons which I won’t disclose but also for sovereignty reasons where there is a lot of illegal activities that have been happening in and around the area of Cadenas. So we have an observation post there which is the highest feature in the area and we observe military activities and illegal civilian activities in the area on the Belizean side an so our soldiers regularly do patrols there and they also alert us when there is illegal air activity coming in to our country so we could respond. So the area of Cadenas is a very strategic feature for us so we maintain the presence there. On a regular basis we arrest situations where there is illegal plantations, illegal harvesting, illegal cattle rearing that occurs in Belize those things are arrested by the patrols that are in the Cadenas area so for decades we have been operating in there so we have been traversing the Sarstoon on a weekly basis, sometimes once a week, sometimes once every two weeks, sometimes two or three times for the week we go in there depending on what’s happening there.”

Jones said it only came to their attention a couple months ago that the Guatemalans are claiming ownership of the Sarstoon River.

Brigadier General David Jones

“They expressed to us that historically the river belongs to them even though the 1859 treaty states that the channel goes through the middle of the river from the mouth of the Sarstoon their belief is that historically the entire river belongs to them and the border as in the 1859 treaty according to them is only from the land base north of the river so the entire land base is for Belize. So south of the land base which includes the Sarstoon River they believe belongs to them, we are of a different view. We are going with the view that is stated in the 1859 treaty that it goes down the mouth of the Sarstoon and if you look at the international map it clearly has the Sarstoon River to the north of where the deepest navigable channel is. Probably in international law if there is a boundary inside a river it should go where the deepest navigable channel is which would include the Sarstoon clearly inside Belizean territory. So historically we have been patrolling the Sarstoon river and we have always patrolled south of the Sarstoon island because we believe it belongs to us and that is the belief that we continue to have but its just recent that we’ve learnt that they believe the entire river belongs to them and we have no jurisdiction over the river, that is their belief.”

Jones said discussions have been taking place to ensure that the military to military relationship remains focused given the importance of the area.

Brigadier General David Jones

“Because of this situation that has started in the Sarstoon they have seemed to be a bit more aggressive towards Belizeans and I wouldn’t like to see that continue and the best way to stop that is through discussion and mediation and that is what I have been doing. I have been having discussions with them more regularly, I am not in immediate contact with the admiral over at Puerto Barios I am also in contact with the commander of the Naval Marines there and we have agreed to work together as a team because that area is strategic not just for Belize, it’s also strategic for Guatemala and it’s also an important area for Honduras, El Salvador , Mexico and the United States because there is a lot of illegal transshipment of drugs that goes through there, there is human trafficking that occurs there, there is also other illegal activities that go through there so it comes in through the region and it goes through and there is only one military force operating there, Guatemala so my discussion over a year now is for us to work together as neighboring countries, military to military the response is yes it’s a wise idea, let’s do it. These conferences I’ve had with all the Central American Generals and also with the officers in Mexico and also with the generals in the United States we’ve all agreed that it’s something that needs to happen, Belize needs to have a base there. Military to Military there is no objection, absolutely no objection, it’s going to happen.”

Jones also responded to a question of whether the Guatemalan military was pursuing the BDF in a video that was posted on Facebook.

Brigadier General David Jones

“It’s a long journey going into the Sarstoon and back. When we go in there we don’t waste time, we want to get in there as quickly as possible and get out as quickly as possible for administrative reasons for the soldiers because it takes over two hours sometimes depending on the debris that is inside the river but we are not going to travel in that river at a slow speed. As fast as practical we are going to get in and we are going to get out. If the Guatemalans want to follow our vessels at high speed that is there issue, I have no problem with that but they are not chasing us as what people are saying because in saying that thy are chasing us that is like saying we did something or that we are trying to hide from them and that they are trying to catch up with us, that is not the case.”

He reiterated that while there can be no restrictions placed on Belizeans traversing the country, in areas where there are known dangers it is prudent to proceed with caution.