Mexican official says U.S. soldiers may have helped drug smugglers

Associated Press
Published January 27, 2006

MEXICO CITY - Mexico's top diplomat suggested Thursday that American soldiers disguised as Mexican troops may have been in the military-style Humvee filmed earlier this week protecting a marijuana shipment on the border.

Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez also told a news conference that U.S. soldiers had helped drug smugglers before. However, he offered no evidence.

The U.S. Embassy in Mexico made no immediate comment on Derbez's claims.

His comments came a day after U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza issued a statement asking the Mexican government to "fully investigate" the border incident.

Monday's armed standoff began 50 miles east of El Paso, Texas, when Texas state police tried to stop three sport utility vehicles on Interstate 10.

The vehicles made a quick U-turn and headed south toward the border, a few miles away.

Crossing the border, one SUV got stuck in the Rio Grande River, and men in a Humvee tried in vain to tow it out. Then a group of men in civilian clothes began unloading what appeared to be bundles of marijuana and torched the SUV before fleeing.

Mexico insisted Wednesday that the men in military-style uniforms were drug smugglers, not soldiers. In Mexico, kidnappers and drug smugglers regularly wear police gear, which is sold at street stands.

"Members of the U.S. Army have helped protect people who were processing and transporting drugs," Derbez said.

Three U.S. soldiers have pleaded guilty to running a cocaine smuggling ring from a U.S. base in Colombia, and a fourth is being tried in Texas this week.

PLAN ON HOLD: Mexico will suspend its plan to distribute maps to migrants wanting to cross the U.S. border illegally, but an official said Thursday the decision was not made because of American pressure.

Miguel Angel Paredes, spokesman for the federal Human Rights Commission, said the government wanted to "rethink" its plan because human rights officials in border states expressed concern that the maps would show anti-immigrant groups - like the Minutemen civilian patrols - where migrants likely would gather.

"This would be practically like telling the Minutemen where the migrants are going to be," Paredes said. "We are going to rethink this, so that we wouldn't almost be handing them over to groups that attack migrants."