It was a huge embarrassment for the Belize Defence Force when a thief, or thieves, broke into their Weapon Bulk Store at their base at Price Barracks in Ladyville and stole forty-two guns — undetected. The culprits broke into the facility by breaking the lock and cutting the hasp & staple.
The theft went virtually undetected for at least a week, as the weapons storage facility lacked a guard and/or surveillance cameras.
Yesterday evening, Wednesday, October 12, a press briefing was held at the Price Barracks base by leading officers of the BDF, the Ministry of Defence and CIB, to answer questions about the burglary and to declare that the Government of Belize was offering a $30,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the weapons.
Lt. Col. Javier Castellanos, 2nd in Command of the BDF, told the media that their officials were informed of the burglary at 11:00 a.m. yesterday; the discovery had been made by BDF patrol at 10:20 a.m. yesterday when they conducted a routine check.
The Weapon Bulk Store is a storage facility used by the BDF to store mostly unserviceable weapons and new weapons which will be issued to soldiers. The facility has five separate units, all of which were used to store weapons; the thief (or thieves) broke into the first unit on the far left; the BDF told us that it was observed that the door of the 3rd unit had also been tampered with, but not broken into.
Of the forty-two weapons stolen, twenty-four are unserviceable, meaning the weapons cannot be fired unless a qualified gun expert fixes them, and 18 are serviceable weapons, meaning they are in working condition. The stolen weapons are (22) M16 A1 rifles, unserviceable; (2) M4 Colt Commando rifles, unserviceable; (11) 9mm Beretta pistols, serviceable; and (7) M4 Carbine rifles, serviceable.
In a statement to the media, Lt. Col. Castellanos said: “…it is a serious breach that has occurred, because this is a military facility; it’s not a matter at this point in time to assign blame; there is the criminal investigation being done; there is the internal investigation [and] there is a court of inquiry that will assign blame.”
According to Castellanos, the different departments are working together, but so far in the investigation, there are no specific leads.
CEO of the Ministry of Defence and Immigration, Allen Whylie, told us that the weapons were under additional “lock and key” in that storage facility; and that the chains and locks for the weapons had been cut.
Castellanos explained that a hole in the back fencing of the Weapon Bulk Store facility was also discovered. At this time the base is being searched in the hope that the weapons may be hidden there.
According to him, different security measures are being tabled, one of which includes the installation of security cameras and a permanent guard at the Weapon Bulk Store.
In the direct vicinity of the Weapon Bulk Store are surrounding BDF homes and bushy areas; behind the bushy areas is a civilian-residential area. The Weapon Bulk Store is about a quarter mile away from the main base.
“It’s obvious that any soldier or any ex-soldier would know that weapons were stored in that facility, so I cannot say at this point in time that there had to be collusion within the BDF; it is known within,” Whylie said.
He went on to say, “…with regards to the security of this installation . . . security is an expensive venture. Security comes in layers. It depends on how much you have to spend, the finance, and it’s an installation that we took over from the British Forces.
“To date, it has not been properly surveyed. There are areas in this camp which have been breached before. Civilians enter. It’s difficult to keep them out. We have the swamps — the marshes — to the back. We have the fences which deteriorate over the years. It’s an expensive venture. It is difficult to patrol and secure the perimeter of the fence.”
Unfortunately, the report of theft from military forces (either stolen from them personally, or from the base at Price Barracks) has been surfacing more frequently over the past few years; in 2004, the British Army Training Support Unit Belize, BATSUB, suffered a loss of twenty-four grenades, which were stolen; of the twenty-four grenades, four later successfully exploded, killing 2 teenagers in separate instances — reportedly the work of gangs.
Two more grenades were thrown but did not explode, and another was discovered by police at a house; a total of seventeen grenades of the twenty-four are still unaccounted for.
In another case, the BDF reported that two separate weapon thefts had been reported in 2010; in January, an M4 Carbine rifle was stolen from inside the Guard Room at the Price Barracks base; the other weapon, a M16 rifle, was stolen from a. soldier in February 2010, as he was sleeping inside a vehicle when he was supposed to be on foot patrol.
Of the forty-two weapons stolen from the BDF headquarters, all of them are high-powered military weapons that pack a major “punch” in the line of defence; the M16 A1 rifle can operate in a fully automatic mode, shooting an entire 30-magazine in a matter of seconds; the M4 Colt Commando rifle delivers with a revolution per minute of 700-950; its shooting range is up to 400 meters.
The M4 Carbine rifle is also very powerful, as it has revolutions per minute of 700-950 and can effectively reach a target from about 500 meters and an area target from about 600 meters.
So far the police have not recovered any of these weapons and all units continue their investigations.