The lush rainforest and jungles of Belize combined with open savannahs and crocodile infested rivers create a great experience under the canopy not only for tourists but for military training. The concrete jungle of the UK does little to prepare the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces for battle and that is why BATSUB has been present in Belize long after Independence was gained in 1981. This morning the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Belize City was the setting for the signing of a memorandum of agreement (M.O.U.) that would extend the presence of the British Forces in Belize. Minister of National Security John Saldivar signed the MOU on behalf of Belize. Mark Lancaster, Minister of Defence for the UK Armed Forces says the MOU guarantees the UK’s military presence in Belize for the next fifteen years.
Mark Lancaster, Minister of Defence for the UK Armed Forces: “I’m very proud of the longstanding relationship that our two countries have had and as the Minister for Foreign Affairs has said goes back some seventy years and we have had BATSUB in Belize here for many years. For us its an incredibly valuable training area where our soldiers can come and experience an environment which they simply don’t normally get to do. That means they are well placed for example if they were to go and participate in United Nations Missions which are of value to the whole world but equally it means that we can work more closely with the Belize Defense Forces, this is very much of mutual benefit, we conduct training together and we learn from each other and that simply strengthens the long-standing relationship that our two countries have had.”
Reporter: Can you give us tangible examples in which the cooperation strengthens the connection between the two forces?
Mark Lancaster, Minister of Defence for the UK Armed Forces:“Well absolutely our very presence here I think is significant. I know that having visited our troops yesterday to see the work that they are doing in some of the specific training that they are carrying out with the Belize Defense Force simply must be of mutual benefit because this is where two professional forces are coming together, learning from each other and through that process becoming even more professional and even more effective.”
Reporter: Is there any reason for the timing I have to ask with us going to a referendum early next year, I know the minister has made it very clear that the British are no longer responsible for our protection or defense but do you feel that the movement of troops, the increase in troops at this time might still send some sort of message of support.
Mark Lancaster, Minister of Defence for the UK Armed Forces:“Let me be absolutely clear that Belize is a sovereign state that is responsible for its own defense as the minister said. We have had a very long-standing relationship. I mean the timing of this particular treaty is simply because the last treaty has effectively come out of date and what we have done now by signing this treaty and the memorandum of understanding is that we have future proofed the ability for UK forces to be in Belize for another fifteen years and that is quite significant. When it comes to the referendum that you are having next year in April I understand exactly why that referendum is happening, from the outside I would encourage Belizeans to vote yes I think it’s very important that this very long-standing dispute between nations is taken to the ICJ- that seems the be the logical conclusion to that. But that is an independent issue that the UK presence here in Belize and the mutual support that we have with our Belizean defense forces in trying to ensure that both our armies become ever more professional.”
Belize and UK Sign First Status of Forces Agreement Since ‘94
While it is no defense guarantee or representatives of the Governments of both Belize and the UK today signed a revised Status of Forces Agreement.
That's the memorandum of understanding between the countries which allows the British Army Training and Support Unit Belize, BATSUB to remain in Belize. You'll remember that in October of 2015, BATSUB resumed its operations at full capacity after it had all but pulled out in 2011.
Today Security Minister John Saldivar signed a renewed MOU with the UK Minister of Defense, Rt. Honorable Mark Lancaster, who travelled to Belize just for the event. Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington acted as a sort of witness, and the media was invited to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office in Belize City. We got a chance to speak with the UK Minister about the significance of BATSUB's continued presence in Belize:
Hon. Mark Lancaster - UK Minister for Armed Forces "We are very proud of the long standing relationship that our 2 countries have had. As the Minister of Foreign Affairs said it goes back some 70 years and we have had BATSUB here in Belize now for many years. For us it is an incredible valuable training area where our soldiers can come and experience an environment which they simply don't normally get to do. That means if they are well placed, for example, if they are to get to participate in the United Nations missions which are of value to the whole world. But equally it means that we can work more closely with the Belize Defence Force. This is for mutual benefit as we conduct our training together and we learn from each other. That simply strengthen the long standing relationship that our two countries have had."
Reporter "Can you give us tangible examples in which the cooperation strengthens the connection between the 2 forces?"
Hon. Mark Lancaster - UK Minister for Armed Forces "Absolutely, our very presence here I think is significant. I know that having visited our troops yesterday to see the work that they are doing in some of the specific training that they are carrying out with the Belize Defence Force simply must be of mutual benefit, because this is where 2 professional forces are coming together, learning from each other and through that process becoming even more professional and even more effective."
Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of National Security "We've always had the UK Forces training here in Belize since as we've said they've been here since 70 years, but we have had an agreement that has been in place since 1994. That is the last time we did it and we felt that it needed to be modernized, it needed to be improved and the language needed to change in some respects to cover exactly how the UK Forces can and do operate here in Belize and that is the reason we have signed these two agreements. We know that it is going to help us tremendously. The UK has committed to maintaining their presence here in Belize through this training unit and we hope to see an increase in their presence for the purpose of training."
Reporter "What areas our military benefit from this agreement?"
Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of National Security "Well, certainly cross-training in terms of our people being involved with the training of the UK Forces that are here. As well as in terms of physical space, physical equipment, buildings that may be residual from their presence here. We believe the training aspect of it especially with our people working along with the UK Forces is very important."
A press release from the Government of Belize says that the revised agreement sets out a new legal framework within which the UK Armed Forces will operate in Belize. This is the first revision of the Belize-UK Status of Forces Agreement since the original in 1994.