Says General Jones On our Tuesday and Wednesday newscasts, we told you about the high level meeting between Belize and Guatemala at the state and law enforcement level. That meeting was to discuss the murder of Special Constable Danny Conorquie, an armed incursion at the Valentine Conservation Outpost, in which the 40+ armed Guatemalan civilians from La Rejoya Village were trying to lure BDF Soldiers into an ambush after threatening to burn down the facility under construction.
Brigadier General David Jones was a part of the Belize Delegation who met with his counterpart from the Guatemalan Armed Forces. During their meeting, they discussed how both countries could cooperate to prevent future conflicts such as the Valentin Incident, and how to decrease illegal activities.
Jones told the media in a press conference today that the decision made was that both militaries will do joint patrols at the border, separate from the Link-up operations they currently employ:
Brig. Gen. David Jones, Commander, Belize Defence Force
"What was agreed is that both countries would improve on existing patrols and include joint coordinated military patrols. The patrols that we do currently with the Guatemalans are what are called link-up patrols. We go to designated points along the border from north to south. We meet there for about 15-20 minutes, we exchange information and then we go our separate ways. What is being proposed now is that apart from that Belizean soldiers, the BDF and the Guatemalan armed forces will spend probably a day, two days, or even three days patrolling together as a unit and going into some of these same village inside Guatemala and probably talk to these people, so that they have an impression that there are two different forces and they have their own officials informing them where the border is and how they should respect it. So that is something that we are trying to achieve with the Guatemalans. I think this will go a long way because the people appears to be indoctrinated that this country belongs to them and in many occasions the one who are aware that Belizean law is enforced on the eastern side - they still pretend that they don't know where the border is, even though sometimes they do have a good idea. When the soldiers would meet them they pretend that they don't know where it is."
That was only one of the 12 point agreements signed at the end of the meeting. Another important result was the law enforcement on both sides of the border have established a mechanism which allows for greater cooperation and intelligence sharing on crimes which happen at the border. The General said if this mechanism was in place on the day when Special Constable Danny Conorquie was killed, the perpetrator would have more than likely been cornered, increasing the chances of him being captured.
Brig. Gen. David Jones
"Apart from that there will also be establishment of intelligent sharing mechanisms among the various security organizations; so the intelligence particularly between the military to military, police to police, special branch and their counterparts over there will share information. If this was in place it would have help a great deal in the shooting death of the police officer at Caracol because what could have happen, they could have call their counterparts immediately and they would have been able to take action over there and wait for these guys to go over because we know where the track was that leaded over. It was heading towards La Rejoya from Valentin and if they had communication, they could have been able to intercept them. So we are going to try to put mechanism in place to share intelligence and to share information with each other so that as an incident occurs in Belize and we believe the perpetrator's a Guatemalan, we call their authorities and try to get their assistance to stop them on the other side or try to capture them. The main thing that we wanted to achieve was a mechanism to talk to each other immediately as an incident occurs. What the Guatemalan had also pledged is to assist us as much as they are capable to try and find the person who committed the murder of Danny Conorquie. They have intelligence information on that incident, our police department has intelligence information and they are now sharing and in the process of working together to find out who this person is. We already have an idea, we know which village he comes from and we suspect that he is the person that owns the same horses that we had captured. So it shouldn't take very long, as long as they cooperate with us, we should be able to find who committed that murder."
The Commander of the BDF also told us today that Guatemala has also decided that the project at Monte De Los Olivos, which has been very successful in curbing incursions into the reserve forests on the Belize side will be replicated in other communities along the border. Viewers may know that Monte De Los Olivos is a Guatemalan Border community whose residents have become well-known to FCD and the BDF for it's incursions into the Chiquibul National Park, principally to conduct illegal farming. The project set up in that community was primarily responsible for the decrease of such activities in the reserve, and so, Guatemala will take it to other border villages.
Brig. Gen. David Jones
"In view of the success of the development projects in Monte De Los Olivos we foster and promote similar projects in other communities. So the area of Rio Blanco and the opposing villages; there was one village called Monte De Los Olivos, this is where we've had the problematic people that have been coming in to the Chiquibul and this is the same area where the last fellow who was shot and killed because of exchange of gun fire with the BDF came from. The Guatemalans have implemented a project in that village so that the people can self-sustain themselves and they are being educated that they are not supposed to come over on the Belizean side because Belizean laws will be enforced. That has been very successful. The women is that village are being given a stipend. So they are given money to send their kids to school and to sustain their family. So 90% of the problems we had in Monte De Los Olivos have been solved. There are still a few people coming across, but that area of the Chiquibul we have had very good success. Now that success in Monte De Los Olivos we want to take those down to the other Guatemalan communities. The next one in particular that we would like to see that happens is in area of La Rejoya which is just opposite the Valentin camp. That area in the Caracol Archaeological Reserve is where we deem now is the biggest threat to our security in that area; to the troops and the extraction of our products."
Jones also told us that there were other commitments which were given, which in his opinion will finally allow for Guatemala to actively join the effort to stop its citizens from crossing the Belizean Border.
Brig. Gen. David Jones
"Conduct joint visits to neighboring communities in Belize and Guatemala to convey the commitment of both parties to improve the quality of life and community safety and to strengthen the friendly relations between neighboring towns as well as to protect the environment. Also in the agreement identify mechanisms for direct contact among the various agencies, military forces in order to establish direct free flowing and ongoing communications to coordinate preventative measures as well as rapid and effective responses in situations as necessary. Personally for me, what I wanted them to do was to agree to try and do more. I did not believe that Guatemala has been doing all they should or could to stop the encroachment inside Belize. They have pledge to support that. They will work closer with our military; with our security forces; with our police and we will work jointly together to try and stop their civilians from coming across. So it doesn't matter how much resources we have, how many man power we have - it won't be very successful unless Guatemala plays a part. They are our neighbor. If they can stop or dissuade their people from coming into Belize it will help us a great deal. We will still put the necessary resources to stop whatever encroachment. illegal or criminal activity that comes over to Belize, but Guatemala has to play a part. If they implement what they have pledge - what we will see in the Chiquibul, the Caracol Archaeological Reserve is a significant reduction of encroachment and illegal activities occurring inside Belize. This will also minimize the eventuality of armed exchange of gun fire between the security forces and Guatemalans. It will also reduce the tension between our country and also reduce the criminal violence and encounters."
The General believes that if it works out as the Guatemalans have pledged, then there will be a further decrease in tensions. This will foster a closer friendship with the military from both sides to allow joint operations for humanitarian purposes in both countries.