The Ministry of National Security is working with Mexico and the United States, sharing information that can assist the government to keep informed of any airplane tracking towards Belize and the region. This comes after three suspected drug plane landings in the north. The airplanes which have landed under the cover of night have managed to avoid detection from regional radars. It is because of this that local authorities must rely heavily on actual sightings. Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington says it is a concern, not only for Belize but for the region.
Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs:“Everybody has to be concerned and clearly the government is concerned given the fact that the government is responsible for the safety and security of the nation and to the extent that we can use our own resources to try to deal with the situation as well as to work along with our allies in doing so I’m sure we are making every effort so to do. I do know that we have pretty close collaboration with the Americans in terms of these matters relating to narcotics so I’m fairly certain that the Ministry responsible for National Security is in fact working with the Americans and others in trying to see how we could come to grips with this very unhappy situation. It really doesn’t augur well for us to have these planes coming and we don’t seem to be able to get a handle on it so I’m sure they’re working feverishly towards it, trying to do that, because they come from somewhere and they are going somewhere; they’re not destined for Belize and so the United States Government I’m sure is very concerned.”
The authorities are asking the public to immediately report suspicious aircraft sightings to law enforcement agencies.
Police Ministry Addresses The Drug Plane Problem
A drug plane landed on the San Estevan/Progresso Road yesterday morning - and that's where it remains tonight, on the shoulder of the road.
But, 7News has learned tonight that preparations are being made to fly it from there to a secure location. As we told you it is a Hawker Siddeley 225 jet, which local pilots are not qualified to fly. But, the police department did find a qualified pilot in the PG area, and we are told he went to the site today to assess the aircraft. If all goes as planned, he is expected to fly it out of there early tomorrow. We'll wait and see.
And while the government will now have to decide what it plans to do with the jet - which does have a fair market value - the bigger issue is - what's up with all these planes? Since November of last year - this is the seventh suspected drug plane that has landed in Belize. Most of them were burnt, one was left damaged, and this one is the first jet - and it was left intact - after the crew tried to burn it and failed.
Today we asked Minister of State in Ministry of National Security Elodio Aragon for his view on the flurry of drug planes - and if there is a plan to stop them:
"We've had 7 drug planes since November. We just had another one. What can you tell us about this? Obviously it seems we're trafficking a lot in terms of drugs."
Hon. Elodio Aragon Jr., Minister of State in Ministry of National Security
"That has always been a part of our history of Belize, if you look way back in the 1980's Belize ranked in the 4th biggest drug trafficking country in terms of marijuana. In the area, cocaine, we've had all of these incidences still here and it will always continue to be an issue. We at the ministry of national security have to be concerned about these things so it is a concern to us for national security reasons. The ministry is definitely looking into the situation."
"Is this the most you've ever heard of in this small timeframe? Seven different planes landing in various parts of Belize?"
Hon. Elodio Aragon Jr.
"I've highlighted anytime we've had these aircraft incidents so of course it is a concern to us and we would like to know that they are not using Belize as a transshipment country. The reality is that people are using Belize as a transshipment country. It is more work now for the security forces to double up, put it the security strategies to ensure that we are able to deter that."
"What kind of strategies will be used to help avoid this in the future?"
Hon. Elodio Aragon Jr.,
"Those things cannot be discussed to the public because if we do that then it won't help, but they're definitely looking at that and we're going to see how we can curb that situation. We're asking the community out there, if you hear or you're out there in your community, especially those rural communities, and you hear a low flying aircraft, you can call that in. That will assist us and that information is channeled so we can have a better response. This is all about timing, in dealing with these situations."
"I know you can't really comment on who it is, where they're from but you guys kind of have an idea of this or you're still trying to figure it out?"
Hon. Elodio Aragon Jr.,
"This is an old profession in terms of people using this country as a transshipment area, this has been with us from a long time. As a matter of fact we're seeing an increase so it's definitely something that is a concern to us and definitely we have to do a response in terms of how to best curb the situation. I am confident that now we're under the ministry of national security, where there's a more cohesive coherent communication between the military, the coast guard and the police, I think we're now best able to do better as one ministry to deal with this problem."
And today, The Ministry of National Security sent out a statement on the rash of drug planes dropping in Belize. It says, quote, "The local law enforcement response is based primarily on initial tracking information and intelligence provided by regional partners. In the case of illegally flown airplanes, that information changes by the time the plane enters Belize's airspace. These aircraft actively avoid radar detection, therefore, Belizean authorities must rely principally on actual sightings and the most recent intelligence received locally, or from our regional partners, to try to anticipate the landing areas for the planes. Although law enforcement authorities try to cover multiple possible landing sites, the pilots also have several landing options and are therefore able to elude authorities." End quote. The Ministry encourages the public to immediately report suspicious aircraft sightings to law enforcement.
Statement on Recent Spate of Illegal Airplane Landings
The Ministry of National Security along with its regional partners, including the United States, Mexico, and Central American neighbour's rely on information from each other, and the available radar capabilities, to keep informed of any airplane tracking towards Belize and the region. Despite these efforts, there has been a spate of illegal airplane landings in the country as the aircraft manage to avoid detection from the available regional radars.
The local law enforcement response is based primarily on initial tracking information and intelligence provided by regional partners. In the case of illegally flown airplanes, that information changes by the time the plane enters Belize’s airspace. These aircraft actively avoid radar detection, therefore, Belizean authorities must rely principally on actual sightings and the most recent intelligence received locally, or from our regional partners, to try to anticipate the landing areas for the planes. Although law enforcement authorities try to cover multiple possible landing sites, the pilots also have several landing options and are therefore able to elude authorities.
The Ministry of National Security in conjunction with regional partners continues to seek ways to improve detection capabilities to prevent the illegal landings. In the meantime, the Ministry encourages the public to immediately report suspicious aircraft sightings to law enforcement agencies (Police, Belize Defence Force, Belize Coast Guard); doing so can aid in a timelier response by the authorities.