Army to reduce Belize garrison

BRITAIN is to reduce its garrison of 1,300 men in Belize over the next year, prompting immediate speculation that the aim is to release more troops for use in Bosnia, writes Will Bennett.

But defence sources said that the move, announced last night by the Government, had more to do with the need to shed non-essential commitments and with improved relations with Belize's neighbour Guatemala than with greater British involvement in the former Yugoslavia.

The announcement of the scaling down of the garrison in the Central American country to a small training operation was made by Tristan Garel-Jones, the Foreign Office minister, in a House of Commons written reply.

He said that responsibility for protecting Belize would pass to the country's own defence force and that the region had undergone 'a welcome transformation in its political and security circumstances'.

Relations with Guatemala, which had a long standing territorial claim to the former British colony and which in the past threatened to invade, have now improved. Two years ago the Guatemalans recognised Belize as a sovereign state.

The move will free 1,000 soldiers, including a 700- strong infantry battalion, and 300 RAF personnel for deployment elsewhere at a time when Britain's armed forces are severely stretched. Northern Ireland's troubles and the new commitment in Bosnia have put the Army under particular strain.