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Mexican military enters Texas for first time since 1846

Associated Press/Olga R. Rodriguez | September 8 2005

Mexican army convoys and a navy ship laden with food, supplies and specialists traveled to the United States Wednesday to help in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. It was a highly symbolic journey marking the first time Mexico's military has aided its northern neighbor.

A convoy of 45 vehicles and 196 soldiers arrived at the border city of Nuevo Laredo Wednesday night. It was to cross into U.S. territory early today, Gen. Francisco Ortiz Valadez told reporters as his men refueled at a local gas station.

He said the troops would help evacuee operations in San Antonio.

"Our mission is to give aid to the civilian population affected by the disaster," Ortiz said.

Federal police briefly blocked the highway in both directions as the convoy arrived at the gasoline station.

Radio talk shows and newspapers in Mexico buzzed with excitement over news that this country, long on the receiving end of U.S. disaster relief, was sending a hurricane aid convoy north.

The convoy represents the first Mexican military unit to operate on U.S. soil since 1846, when Mexican troops briefly marched into Texas, which had separated from Mexico and joined the United States.

The effort includes military specialists, doctors, nurses and engineers carrying water treatment plants, mobile kitchens, food and blankets.

"This is just an act of solidarity between two peoples who are brothers," said Ruben Aguilar, a spokesman for Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Army press office employee Francisco Aguilar said he did not have details of the convoy's precise location. It originally was scheduled to arrive in Houston to provide food for evacuees, but apparently had been rerouted to Dallas.

All of the convoy's partici pants will be unarmed. In July 2004, Mexican troops interrupted the funeral of a Mexican- born Marine killed in Iraq. They objected to the nonworking, ceremonial rifles carried by two Marines who came from the United States for the ceremony.

Mexico later apologized but said it has an obligation to enforce a ban on foreign troops carrying weapons in its territory.

The convoy has "a very high symbolic content," said Javier Oliva, a political scientist at Mexico's National Autonomous University. "This is a very sensitive subject, for historic and political reasons."

The relief mission was controversial for some Mexican lawmakers, who said the president should have sought Senate approval before sending troops abroad. But the Fox administration said no such approval was needed for aid missions. But it nevertheless later asked permission and the Senate approved it.

The government was planning to send a second, 12-vehicle aid convoy to the United States sometime this week and has sent a Mexican navy ship equipped with rescue vehicles and helicopters to the Mississippi coast.

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