BTV goes to the Sarstoon
Over the weekend, the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) lived up to their words last week, and ventured to the Belize Defence Force’s Forward Operating Base (FOB) at the Sarstoon. According to the group, they practically met a ghost town. Recently, they have been pointing out that the government has pulled the 24-hour surveillance from the base, on the grounds that they would need to refurbish the facility as it was not conducive for the soldiers to occupy. The BTV is of the opinion that the government is dragging its feet with the renovations, but the BDF has since denied those claims. So, the BTV took matters into their own hands, and say they would go man the base. Brigadier General Azariel Loria indicated that the BTV had no legal rights at the base, and they would not have it. Well, those words meant nothing to the BTV as they persisted. Today, however, a BDF vessel was seen taking off from the coast of Punta Gorda Town, apparently heading to the Forward Operating Base. Activist and Attorney, Audrey Matura was in Punta Gorda earlier today, and documented the BDF vessel taking off from the coast. When our newsroom spoke to Matura this afternoon, she explained that the trip was necessary given the country’s current territorial dispute with Guatemala, which remains a live issue before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Audrey Matura, Member of BTV: “The Belizean public have to remember that currently, we have a claim by Guatemala against Belize territory that is before the ICJ, that’s the International Court of Justice. So right now as we are going through that which we do not know what’s all in the papers so reasons unknown to us, the government has kept it secret. So right now as we are going through that process it is even more important for Belize to maintain its presence at the southernmost part of the country which is at the Sarstoon River. We have a forward operating base which we refer to as the FOB and it has come to our attention that for over a year it has been abandoned. Mr. Will Maheia from BTV has agitating and bringing it to light and we kept asking the government to answer. So we’ve made several trips myself for this year I’ve made at least three trips there. Well, now it’s going to be five, and we noticed that indeed there’s no presence. No military presence, not even a flag to say, well, this is the Belize territory, not even the BDF flag. So we issued a press release on BTV saying, hey since you all abandon it and we want to maintain presence there and there’s a sound structure we the BTV will go and occupy it and we made it public because we’re not here to hide and pretend that things have to be hidden. No, it’s very public. When we went there on Saturday as was expected the BDF was there. There were like seven or eight officers. The female officer commanding the station refused to tell us why we cannot dock. They put up sign that says trespassing if there are any trespassers you’ll be prosecuted. So we were not allowed to dock and we didn’t dock either. Then after that, the following day Sunday, well at that day the Saturday I told them we’ll be back we’ll keep on checking. I don’t know if they didn’t believe us but on Sunday we went back and when we went back, as expected, we went back late enough meaning about 11 o’clock to give them enough time to be there on a Sunday. As expected, no one was there. So that gave us an opportunity to inspect the place to see if there’s any problem. And honestly, it is a sound place. There is some land erosion which can be solved easily and if the problem is that the place is that sound then it is an embarrassment because it means that the government is not allotting funding as part of this ICJ claim to ensure that we maintain a presence there. It’s offensive. And if the government doesn’t want to do it, we the people have to do it. And that is why the BTV has been out there. We don’t know when the case at the ICJ will be heard, will be concluded, we are not being kept up to date. But remember, it is the majority of Belizeans who voted to go to the ICJ. There was a big campaign why we should go to the ICJ and we’re not following up. I didn’t vote to go to the ICJ but I am following up because I knew, and I know as an attorney, the implications of us failing to be present there.”
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eamon Courtenay, conceded today, the importance of the Forward Operating Base and that it is crucial that the base becomes fully functional once again. He also explained that the government was working at allocating the funds needed to do the repairs; which was exactly what the BDF Commandant told the media last week.
Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Foreign Affairs: “Every Belizean has a right to go to that area. Unfortunately, the investment that should have been put into the FOB was not put in. Cabinet has now approved the monies for that investment to be done and a new FOB will be done. It’s urgent, it needs to be there and I know that the Ministry of National Defense is moving very quickly to do that. As the Belizeans traversing into that area, all I would say is they have a right to do it, they can do it. We would encourage them to just notify the BDF so that in the event something happened, the BDF is already aware that they will be around there. It’s not a legal requirement or anything, but just in case anything were to happen, we would be at least have some notice.”
According to the Belize Territorial Volunteers, they would like to assist the government in rebuilding the base.