For months, stories concerning the construction of the Forward Operating Base near the mouth of the Sarstoon River have been dominating headlines and today discussions on the matter wages on in corporate and public domains. Viewers may recall that in May of this year the Belize Coast Guard travelled to the Sarstoon Island, Belize’s southernmost territorial point, to perform reconnaissance duty for the possibilities of establishing a base on the island. That trip resulted in tense confrontations between the Belize Coast Guard and the Guatemalan Navy. Since then, we had not heard anything about the forward operating base until a few weeks ago when the Minister of Foreign Affairs revealed that the Guatemalan authorities had issues with building the base inside sovereign Belizean territory. And so the project was put on hold until a discussion was held between Belize and Guatemala’s Foreign Ministers. Upon visiting Belize a few days ago Guatemala’s Foreign Minister Carlos Raul Morales mentioned that the reason that the Guatemalan Government opposed to the construction of the Coast Guard's Forward Operating Base was because an agreement was signed in the Confidence Building Measures that neither country would construct military bases at the border. That statement was refuted by four former P.U.P Foreign Ministers and even by Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Assad Shoman who was the lead negotiator when it comes to the confidence building measures. According to Shoman the three agreements signed between 1998 and 2008 which make up part of the signed Confidence Building Measures in no way prohibits Belize from building military bases at the border.


After receiving assurance that the FOB will not be a military facility manned by the Belize Defense Force, Guatemala approved of the construction.


Today members of the media asked BDF Commander, Brigadier General David Jones to weigh in on the issue and he told us that the BDF is simply interested in combating illicit activities including poaching, illegal logging and fishing in the area.


Screen_Shot_2015-08-07_at_8.09.12_PMBRIGADIER GENERAL DAVID JONES – BDF, COMMANDER


"For Belize's perspective, there isn't really a necessity. Because we in Belize, we consider the Coast Guard also as a military organization. Internationally, people may think otherwise. But they have been doing training with us, so we have no objection in categorizing the Coast Guard as a military as well. But that base is particularly important because there is a lot of narco-traffic activity that occurs in the Sarstoon. North of the central line that runs through the river belongs to Belize in our mind and south in their mind belongs to them. So if anything occurs north of the river, technically they don't have any rights or jurisdiction to interdict anything that happens there and it's the same for us. If anything happens south of the median line, we don't have that jurisdiction. So it's only sensible that both of us have a base there and both of us work jointly together to interdict whatever comes through the Sarstoon.”


Reporter


"When this base is constructed, it is so unforeseen or so alien that BDF patrols would make a stop there to replenish and to coordinate with the Coast Guard and is that such a bad thing?"


BRIGADIER GENERAL DAVID JONES – BDF, COMMANDER


"No of course not. We traverse that river every week, because we have an observation post that goes to Cadenas where our BDF patrols has to pass through there. If a Coast Guard base is there, we talk with them and we work with them and the eventuality is and our intent is to have the BDF there as well. So BDF and Coast Guard can work there jointly. So, that is going to happen."


Reporter


"Will be jointly operated on whatever basis weekly/daily whatever time they are there."


BRIGADIER GENERAL DAVID JONES – BDF, COMMANDER


"Well that hasn't been determined yet. But the plan is for the BDF to be there. Now, when Foreign Affairs is clear on what exactly they want happen and our Ministry of National Security is quite sure what is going to happen, then we will deploy. But from the BDF perspective, we have been interested to construct a base there for years ago and it is still our intent for strategic purpose to have a base near the mouth of the Sarstoon."


Reporter


"But the BDF does advised the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, because ultimately you guys are the military."


BRIGADIER GENERAL DAVID JONES – BDF, COMMANDER


"Yes, of course we do and we have given them our advice and they are quite aware and I have explained to our Ministry the significance of having a base there. They've listen to us, unfortunately, there is a dispute between our neighboring countries. So when that is worked out between Foreign Affairs and the Ministry, then we will get the directive. But they are fully aware of the importance and significance of having a base at such a location. Because it's quite strategic."

 

Reporter


"Sir, but the way you describe it, it makes it sound as though Foreign Affairs is the lead agency in a military type situation where you all are the most equip, the most experience individuals to make the best decision."


BRIGADIER GENERAL DAVID JONES – BDF, COMMANDER


"When it comes to actions on the ground, the military will give the advice. But when it comes to a dispute between bordering countries, our Foreign Affairs has to take that lead. Above the tactical or operational situation on the ground, it is a border dispute between countries and that takes precedence over any military or tactical situation on the ground. The border dispute has to be resolved. They contend that it's their country. We contend that it's our country. It's best to solve this diplomatically before a military solution."


The intent if and when the base is constructed says Jones is to have both the Coast Guard officials and BDF Soldiers stationed at the site.

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