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#513209 - 04/20/16 12:29 PM BDF Forward Operating Base officially inaugurated
Marty Offline

The new BDF Forward Operating Base at the mouth of the Sarstoon River was officially inaugurated this morning with heavy security presence from the BDF and Belize Coast Guard. We were also joined in an unofficial capacity by two Guatemalan military vessels stationed in Belizean waters just off the base, along with Guatemalan fishermen in canoes.

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#513223 - 04/21/16 05:57 AM Re: BDF Forward Operating Base officially inaugurated [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Forward Base IS Ready!

So, now all those were just preliminaries…the big news of the day was that the Sarstoon Joint Forces Operating Base is open and ready for Belizean Law Enforcement to start to use it. 

Our Daniel Ortiz was there, and here's his story:

Exactly 19 weeks ago, these National Security Officials were on this exact same bank at the Sarstoon River mouth to break ground. Over the weeks that followed this frame slowly transformed to become what you see here today. The building is made of wood, but this Forward Operating Base is structurally sound for the wetland terrain
Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of National Security
"You will recall less than 3 months ago when this location was merely a swamp marshy mangrove at the time of launching of the ground breaking ceremony for this facility. The transformation has been impressive as you can see. A facility that is now capable of accommodating dozens of law enforcement officers."
Captain V. Briceno - BDF
"This day the 20th of April 2016 will be remembered as a historic and significant day with the activities that will transpire here."

And while it may seem like only 5 months from ground-breaking to ribbon cutting, the General says it has actually taken the BDF over a decade to get to this point:

Brig Gen. David Jones - Commander, BDF
"I can recall it was in 2008 when I was the commanding officer for the first in country battalion at Fayweather Camp here in Punta Gorda; when I was first task to conduct a recognisance along the Sarstoon River in order to locate a site for a forward operating base. It has been the BDF's intention to have a base in this area at least for almost a decade."

The Sarstoon Base is right across the river from the Guatemala Navy's Sarstoon Base. Though the setup may appear adversarial, the General says that the BDF are hoping to work with the Guatemalan Military to cooperate in trying to curb illegal activities in the Sarstoon:

Brig Gen. David Jones - Commander, BDF
"The entrance to this river marks the entrance of the international boundary that we share with our neighbour Guatemala and it is fitting that we work with them here as we are neighbours and we share the same concerns and challenges. Even though our base is directly opposing out Guatemalan counterpart it is not here to act as an opposing force to them. It is covering the same principle of having great field of view to have eyes on what is entering and exiting the river. We will endeavour to work with them on a principle of neutral respect and cooperation as we share an international boundary. Despite our countries' political differences, we will continue to work as professionals despite the seemingly complex nature we have to work under that can result in tensions."

But, it has not gone unnoticed for National Security Minister, that the Belize Military finally has a presence in the Sarstoon. That's something civilians like those in the Territorial Volunteers have consistently criticized them about, and at today's opening, Saldivar publicly thanked them:

Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of National Security
"There are those who believe that our military presence in the Sarstoon has not been enough. They have felt a need personally and individually as civilians demonstrate a presence in this area. We thank them for their value, we thank them for their bravery, we thank them for their patriotism. We have now established a forward operating base here at the mouth of the Sarstoon and it is for as we have always maintained for our military forces, for our trained forces to deal with maintaining our sovereignty and integrity especially in an area that is under conflict."

While looking at the facility and its current calm, you might be misled for a brief moment into thinking it's a tourist destination. But, this is for military and enforcement purposes, and the commanders told us that this base is equipped to house up to 12 soldiers at once:

Adm. John Borland - Commandant, Belize National Coast Guard
"The facility is built as you saw to occupy at least a dozen people and we looking at a staffing of 8 BDF members along with 4 coast guard and perhaps a single police man to staff the facility."

Brig Gen. David Jones - Commander, BDF
"This facility of course the soldiers have their equipment to survive here and to operate from this base. A part from that they have the beds, they have refrigerators for them to store their food, they have their stove to do cooking, they have importantly radios to communicate. So they are self-sustained here, it's just a matter of getting the food and rations for them and operate and they will also have their vessel to operate from this base; so they are quite sustained and the base is ready to be operational immediately now. "

According to the National Security Minister, the Government is already making another Forward Operating Base, this one Consejo Shores, Corozal.

Sore Sight On Belize Side Of Sarstoon

And while the drone was just a brief annoyance, the really sore sight on the Sarstoon today was the amassing of Guatemalan Navy Vessels clearly on the Belize side of the river – which seemed to be calculated very clearly as an affront. 

But, depending on who we spoke to, their presence was described as either suitable vigilance, or an illegal incursion. Here's what National Security Personnel told us:

Daniel Ortiz
"Were the Guatemalans invited for this particular opening ceremony sir? I ask because there is the concern that the presence that you see from the Guatemalan boats is somewhat watchful and the suggestion is if they are not invited here, they incurring"

Brig Gen. David Jones - Commander, BDF
"No, they are not invited here. We are in Belize; this is an even that is orchestrated by Belize. It's only fitting that they will be watchful, it's an international boundary so even goes in to this river, more than likely is it a possibility they will incurred into Guatemalan waters. So they are doing what is expected of them, they are supposed to be around here, they are supposed to be watchful. If something was occurring over on the Guatemalan side, we of course would also be watchful doing the same thing as they are."

"The Guatemalan military vessels were within Belizean territorial waters as were fishermen. What is the procedure? Will the coast guard send a report to the ministry and asked for it to be followed up through the diplomatic channels, what happens?

Adm. John Borland - Commandant, Belize National Coast Guard
"The reporting lines are never circumvented. Whatever happens has to be addressed jointly so the security forces on a whole produced their reports and submit those reports to the Ministry of National Security, they make it to the National Security Council and also to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it's from there the decision is made on what actions are to be taken. Clearly again you are absolutely right that we can see the Guatemalan vessels as we speak in our sea spaces. I don't know what the arrangements are for this particular event, I don't know if that is an invitation, if they have the authority to be here, I will need to speak with my counterpart the commander of the Belize Defence Force to see what the real situation is with them being so near clearly in our sea space."

Mike Rudon - Channel 5 News
"Now looking out there we see Guatemalan armed forces. All that is left for them is to come on and tour the forward operating base. Do you feel that is a direct act of aggression or at least an insult to us doing this today?"

Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of National Security
"I think we would be naive to assume that the Guatemalans do not claim Belize and as a result they act accordingly. We say Belize is ours and we act accordingly so that is why we refer to it as an area of conflict but we will stand our ground in terms of defending our territorial integrity and sovereignty."

Pesky Guat Drone Appears Above Forward Base Opening

And while the official reaction to the Guatemalan counter proposal was tonight’s headline, the really big news is the opening of the Forward Operating Base on the banks of the Sarstoon. It’s been the subject of so much speculation and agitation for months, and tonight we can tell you that the base is built; it’s open, and it’s operational. IT’s a subject of intense curiosity for the Belziean public, and also, apparently, for the Guatemalan military which actually sent a drone across the river to “ faas’ ” on the ceremony on the Belize side of the river. The appearance of the drone, caused some of the soldiers to draw their weapons, which sent the drone whizzing back across the river very quickly. The Military leaders commented on the drone disruption:

Mike Rudon - Channel 5 News
"We noticed that there was; it came out 10 minutes ago, a drone which was directly above the base. Do you think that is a breach of our security?"

Adm. John Borland - Commandant, Belize National Coast Guard
"Of course it is, it is breach of our security and it's an act of brazenness on whoever sent that drone over here and it should not be condoned and it should be addressed. The same thing happened when we were here for the opening, the ground breaking ceremony and again it's been repeated. We did address it at that time, it was not a welcomed gesture for whoever is responsible and I hope we do so again. It should not countenance, a breach of our sovereignty, a breach of our airspace and it is nothing but out right disrespectful."

Mike Rudon - Channel 5 News
"Do you feel that Belizean law enforcement would be justified to whatever it takes to get that drone from out of Belizean territory?"

Adm. John Borland - Commandant, Belize National Coast Guard
"Justified in doing whatever it takes has to be broken down. I think the first measure are to address it seriously at levels above me that it not be countenance not be tolerated and not be repeated but I feel completely disrespected today to see it repeated after the first time and we addressed and we thought the act would be discontinued."

"How was it addressed?"

Adm. John Borland - Commandant, Belize National Coast Guard
"It was addressed through diplomatic channels."

"Sir we saw as well and correct me if I'm wrong, it appeared that you took it upon yourself not that it was a directive from the Minister who stood there and said it's in our airspace. Did you take it upon yourself to walk out there on the dock and point toward it as if you were going to shoot it down?"

Adm. John Borland - Commandant, Belize National Coast Guard
"Well I wasn't going to shoot it down, all I was trying to do was send a message that thing was in our airspace and it should leave."

"Could we have taken it down?"

Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of National Security
"Well I think you are making an assumption as to the source of the drone, the last time one such even had occurred we were told that it was the Guatemalan media but that aside yes it is an invasion of our airspace and I believe you saw that we were about to take appropriate action."

Channel 7


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