GDF to be boosted to monitor EEZ, borders – Pres. Ali
By Isanella Patoir
Following the illegal detention of two Guyanese fishing vessels and its crew by Venezuela three weeks ago, while fishing in Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and President of Guyana, Dr Irfaan Ali on Thursday revealed that the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) will be boosted with marine vessels and aircraft in order to effectively monitor the country’s EEZ and borders.
The Head-of-State was speaking at the opening ceremony of a two-day GDF Annual Officers’ Conference being held the National Cultural Centre in Georgetown, shortly after Chief-of-Staff (ag) of the GDF, Brigadier Godfrey Bess spoke about the severe challenges being faced in monitoring the country’s porous borders.
“We are building a smarter defence force with the increased use of technology and intelligence so that we can know what is occurring [at] our borders, within our territorial sea and Exclusive Economic Zone,” the President stated.
He added, “The Force will benefit from the acquisition of equipment, aircraft and marine vessels which will allow it to improve surveillance over Guyana’s territory, its land, territorial sea and Exclusive Economic Zone.”
Brigadier Bess, who spoke before the Head-of-State, emphasised that Guyana’s EEZ must also be protected at all cost and so he pointed out the significant challenges the GDF face as it relates to monitoring the country’s hinterland terrain, borders and EEZ.
According to the army chief, the GDF also face difficulties in combating narco-trafficking and associated activities, trafficking in persons, continuous illegal border crossings and managing the migration crisis. He also referred to the discovery of illegal airstrips in the country.
He said these activities threaten the people of Guyana and “we must be able to better monitor the nation’s air, land and sea spaces and interdict interlopers.”
According to Brigadier Bess, a new helicopter was recently acquired, while the Force’s Beechcraft and a Cessna 441 is being rehabilitated. Additionally, a Cessna 172 aircraft that was recently seized, was declared as a state asset and handed over to the GDF, while capable marine vessels are being sourced to properly monitor the country’s EEZ.
Just over a week after Venezuelan President, Nicholas Maduro issued a decree and laid claim to the Essequibo, Guyana received distressing reports on January 21, 2021, that a Venezuelan naval vessel seized two Guyanese fishing vessels and detained its 12-member crew.
The two vessels were intercepted by Venezuelan naval vessel Commandante Hugo Chavez, while operating off the coast of Waini Point, in Guyana’s waters.
Guyana sprang into action issuing a formal protest against the illegal act with growing support from the international community calling for the release and return of the vessels and crew.
At the instruction of the Venezuelan President, the vessels and crew were released on February 2, 2021, and all charges were dropped.
NATIONAL DEFENCE POLICY
Meanwhile, the Commander-in-Chief further revealed that a new National Defence Policy will also be implemented. This new policy will be grounded on four pillars – institution, individual, fortification of national security and national integration.
It will commit to fraternal and peaceful relations with other states and aims to promote good neighbourly relation.
“Our Defence Policy will be guided by our desire for peace and in pursuit of protecting our national patrimony and deterring external threats and acts of aggression,” the President explained.
He further stated that the country’s peaceful intent must not be taken for weakness and as such, the GDF’s capability to respond to territorial threats as well as emergencies and natural disasters will be greatly boosted.
The policy will also place special focus on improved housing, healthcare, special retirement benefits and opportunities for the professional and personal development of the ranks
“A grateful nation takes care of those who are prepared to lay down their lives to protect our motherland. No soldier must live in want and destitution. Our Defence Policy will therefore place emphasis on ensuring the personal wellbeing and welfare of our soldiers.
“I am pleased to say to you that we have already communicated to the Chief-of-Staff to have the first 150 officers and ranks prequalify with the banks for the first rollout of not only house lots but housing facilities,” President Ali said.
Meanwhile, a number of officers are also currently undergoing training as pilots and engineers, while over 100 officers were awarded scholarships to local academic institutions to further boost their capacity in the Force.
“We will ensure in 2021 that we continue to invest in training and development to our human capital, we must become soldiers of excellence in every spear of our administration and operation,” Brigadier Bess said.
He further noted that COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in reduced internal training.
The army conference is being held under the theme, “Enhancing National Security and Development through capacity building, Empowering troops and strengthening community relations.”