HL Deb 13 May 1993 vol 545 cc72-4WA
Baroness Young

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the latest situation regarding the United Kingdom garrison in Belize.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

The British garrison has been deployed in Belize since 1948. The Central American region, of which Belize forms a part, has recently seen a welcome transformation in its political and security circumstances. The civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador are over: peace talks are in progress in Guatemala's 30 year domestic conflict; and progress towards regional integration is gathering speed. Central America's major neighbours, the Group of 3 (Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela), are playing a part in this process, as is the United States. So is Britain, with its EC partners, through the San Jose dialogue between the EC and Central America.

In 1991 Guatemala recognised Belize as a sovereign and independent state; diplomatic relations were subsequently established and much progress has been made since then towards a normal bilateral relationship. The time has now come for the British military presence in Belize to evolve, to reflect the improvements in the regional political and security picture and in the very welcome and encouraging developments in Belize-Guatemala relations. Accordingly, over the next year or so, the garrison will be gradually reduced. At the request of and with the agreement of the Government of Belize, the British military presence will take the form of a training operation for UK troops. The formal responsibility for the defence of Belize will pass from British forces to the Belize Defence Force (BDF) at a date to be announced in due course. Britain stands ready to play a part in any consultations that the Belize authorities may request on Belize's future security.

The British troop presence in Belize is of long standing. HMG welcomes the developments in Belize's bilateral and regional relationships which permit this evolution of the British troop presence. HMG has assisted since Belizean independence in 1981 with the development of the Belize Defence Force (BDF) through the provision of Loan Service Personnel, equipment, training and advice. We will maintain our programme of assistance to the BDF to sustain and improve the force's capability. Belize will of course also continue to be a beneficiary under Britain's bilateral aid programme.