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Ministry of National Security Clarifies the BTV’s latest Sarstoon visit

On Tuesday the Belize Territorial Volunteers attempted to take a boat along the Sarstoon River. The leader of the expedition Wil Maheia told the media that there were 3 military vessels from Guatemala in the area. Maheia says that the Guatemalan Armed Forces stopped him and he did not see any Belize Coast Guard or the Belize Defense Force (BDF) soldiers in the area. That is concerning as a 24 hour manned forward operating base was built at the mouth of the Sarstoon River. Today we spoke to Brigadier General Steven Ortega, Commander of the BDF who says that Belize’s armed forces were completely aware of the events that occurred.

Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega – Commander of the B.D.F.: “Our patrol actually called us when they saw the vessel coming down. They could not identify who it was at the time because it was far off. At the time only the B.D.F. were on the base. The Coast Guard was actually in Punta Gorda conducting their change over and so when the B.D.F. saw them coming we readied ourselves expecting them to come into the base which is the norm for them to check in but when we saw them stop and anchored out. They actually requested permission to go investigate and find out what happened. On their way going out the boat took off and we weren’t aware who was on the boat at the time however while the Coast Guard was coming down they passed that boat going back to PG and they identified Wil Mejia with a group so that is why we assumed that it was his boat that was there so we assumed that it was Wil Mejia and a group that were going into the Sarstoon but the bar mouth wasn’t blocked, yes there were Guatemalans vessels there which is normal and we were coming out to look and investigate to see what happened to them and why they stopped but they took off before we got there so that is the facts.”

Jose Sanchez – Reporter: “ Is the base there always occupied?”

Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega – Commander of the B.D.F.: “Yes, it is occupied 24/7 and I believe the entire country knows this that all our bases are manned twenty-four hours a day seven days a week by soldiers and I don’t know where he got the idea that there were no B.D.F. or Coast Guard members around. That is very far from the facts and I believe it is kind of mischievous to do it in that manner because he knows the truth.”

Jose Sanchez – Reporter: “Would you say also that the Guatemalans are well aware of Mr. Mejia, the flags on his boat, the names like Yinky Dinky and the activities that he carries so they are always looking out for him?”

Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega – Commander of the B.D.F.:  “Actually, we became aware that something was going to happen that morning because we saw the Guatemalans readied early meaning they had on their kit and equipment beforehand. Normally they don’t do that unless they are going on a patrol, they were just ready and waiting, we saw that which is not normal for them unless they are going out. That means they kit up, get on their boat, go conduct their patrol, come back, take off their kit and relax but we saw them readied from early so we knew something was going to happen but we did not know what it was until we saw the boat coming and we saw them board their vessels and launched off from their peer.”

Jose Sanchez – Reporter: “And typically the Guatemalans would not stop the B.D.F. or the Coast Guard when traversing down the Sarstoon River?”

Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega – Commander of the B.D.F.: “No it is normal for us to go around and they follow us which is their routine and we can’t stop them from doing their routine but they don’t block us, we continue doing what we are supposed to do.”

According to an official release sent from the Ministry of National Security  “The Sarstoon FOB reported that about 10:30 a.m. on April 25th, they observed a civilian vessel coming from the direction of Punta Gorda approaching the mouth of the Sarstoon and stopped about 1.5 km from the FOB. The patrol noticed that upon seeing the civilian vessel, the Guatemalan Armed Forces base deployed two Metal Shark vessels and a Columbian-type boat towards them. The BDF and BCG also deployed one of their Metal Shark boats towards the civilian vessel but noted that it had turned around and was heading back towards Punta Gorda.”