Just last week ground was broken for the Forward Operating Base on the Sarstoon in southern Belize. It is a project that is fully supported by Belizeans and one that many say took too long to happen. With ground broken on Wednesday, December 9, Brigadier General of the Belize Defense Force, David Jones, spoke of the way forward with this project.
“The Forward Operating Base, the ground breaking took place last week Wednesday. We intend for construction to start as soon as possible. We’ve identified a contractor, it hasn’t been finalized as yet who is going to do the construction that will be finally decided by the government but we expect construction to start very soon probably by next week if possible. When it starts it should be completed within three months so probably by the end of February we should have that base manned. The base is for the Belize Defense Force and we will also invite the Coast Guard to jointly work there with us but it’s a BDF initiative and we intend to do our patrolling in that area, hopefully working with the Guatemalan base which is just on the other side of the river. That protocol needs to be established and agreed upon by our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Security so we are hoping that that dialogue can start so that we can have a similar protocol that we have at the Western Border to have a similar protocol with the Sarstoon river jointly with the Guatemalan armed forces because they have their marines on the other side of the base and whatever comes in there it’s only sensible that we decide together in regards to jurisdiction of any illegal activities that come into the Sarstoon or comes out so we work together.”
Love News understands that there were some objections by the Guatemalans as it pertains to the construction of the Forward Operating Base. Commander Jones, however, says the only concern coming out of several dialogues is that of the villagers nearby.
“The discussion I had with the Guatemalans, there isn’t any huge concern I think there is one concern for the villagers there because they do a lot of fishing in the area and they are concerned that we will interrupt the livelihood of the fishers in that area but as long as they clearly understand that the base is going to be there and it’s going to be manned by our security forces and we are going to enforce Belizean law there. So as long as the people abide by Belizean law they won’t have an issue. If they do their fishing or activities in their part of the territory they will be fine but if they come into Belize then they will be under Belizean jurisdiction so we will enforce laws that occur in that area once that Forward Operating Base is established.”
And while Jones says there is no major concern by the Guatemalans for this base, it did leave one to wonder whether the absence of the Guatemalan officials who were invited to the ground breaking ceremony, was a sign of protest.
“No, I don’t see it as a protest and even though the ground breaking was there I did go over to the median line between Belize and Guatemala on that same day and the Colonel that was there who is in charge of the marines there is one of the same officers I’ve met before in previous discussions in regard to our protocol in the Sarstoon and we met at the middle of the river and we exchange pleasantries and we expressed to them that it’s the ground breaking and that we intend to start working together with them.”
The Sarstoon Island is located near the entrance of the Sarstoon River just along the Belize/Guatemala border which runs along the channel south of the island. It is mostly swampland and covers about a quarter of a square mile. As Jones mentioned, construction is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2016.