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Mexico Implements Counter-Terrorism Plans - 2001-10-02

Law enforcement officials in Mexico are taking special steps to prevent terrorist groups from entering or operating in their territory. Specially trained anti-terrorist military personnel are now working along the nation's southern border.

Mexican Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha says his country is doing its part in the international effort to stop terrorism. He says there are no terrorist groups operating on Mexican soil, but that some groups may try to pass through the country and this is why measures are being taken to tighten security on the southern border. He says there will be a serious hardening of border enforcement, not just to counter terrorism, but also to fight organized crime in all its dimensions, including money laundering and smuggling.

On Monday, Mexican news media reported that specially trained soldiers began replacing Mexican immigration officials in the southern state of Chiapas, which borders the Central American nation of Guatemala. The soldiers assigned there have all had training in either the United States or Israel on how to fight organized crime and terrorism.

In recent years there has been an increase in immigrant smuggling into Mexico of people from the Middle East and Asia seeking illegal entry into the United States through Mexico. In the past year, Mexican officials on the southern border have captured more than 80 illegal immigrants from Central Asian and Middle Eastern countries who had entered Mexico from Guatemala. The immigrants said they had paid thousands of dollars each to smugglers operating in the zone.

Around 400 detainees from more than 30 nations are being held at a prison here in Mexico City for having entered the country illegally. Most are thought to have had plans to proceed to the U.S. border to contact smugglers who would take them across the line. Mexico deported more than 150,000 illegal entrants last year.

Under a special arrangement, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has paid the costs for returning some immigrants to their homelands in Asia or in other distant parts of the world. U.S. officials say it is cheaper to pay for their return than to pay detention and legal appeals costs in the United States. Last year, the United States paid for the return of 950 people from Mexican detention centers to such countries as India, China and Sri Lanka.