General — 23 August 2011 — by Stacey Kelly
During what should have been a routine Belize and Guatemalan “linkup” in the Chiquibul Forest in the area of Sapote Camp, the lives of the Belize Defence Force (BDF) soldiers were once again imperiled, as the BDF team stumbled across a group of illegal Guatemalans, allegedly carrying weapons, ranging from machetes to a high-powered AK-47 assault rifle.
According to Major Dalton Roches, the operations and training officer of the BDF, the Belizean soldiers had no other option but to fire at the group of five illegal Guatemalans, consequently injuring one of them.
The incident unfolded at approximately 11:05 a.m. today, Monday.
Major Roches explained that the BDF conducts routine “linkups” with Guatemala about three times a month, as part of Confidence Building Measures between both countries, done under the auspices of the Organization of American States.
Under the program, the Guatemalans and Belizeans exchange information on the events taking place on both sides of the border. However, the BDF ended up abandoning today’s “linkup” mission, Roches reported.
He told us in an interview this evening that while the BDF soldiers were “on patrol at the ‘linkup’ position; …doing their security of the area”, they saw 5 Guatemalans coming across the borderline into Belize. “One of them had an AK-47 assault rifle,” he recounted, “and the others had short arms along with machetes. The Security Century [the patrol group]…asked the individuals to halt.”
According to Roches, the illegal Guatemalans reached for their weapons: “At that point, the security team, BDF, had to open fire at the individual who pulled the assault rifle. It is believed that one person got injured, because they saw this individual fall and the others grabbed that individual and pulled him in the bush, “ he said.
Roches added that the group of Guatemalans retreated, while the team of BDF returned to their campsite.
Roches said he believes the BDF patrol felt threatened, and they were “basically defending themselves.”
He explained that in that specific area of the forest, the BDF normally encounters illegal Guatemalans who poach wildlife, cut timber and xate, or farm illegally on the Belize side of the border.