MEXICO CITY — MEXICO CITY -- A confrontation between sheriff's deputies and uniformed drug traffickers along the Texas border has intensified concerns about forays into the United States by Mexican soldiers while heightening tensions over border violence.
U.S. officials are demanding that Mexico fully investigate an incident Monday in which several men with military-style uniforms and weapons helped suspected marijuana traffickers escape into Mexico.
Mexican officials deny that soldiers were involved. But the incident has refocused attention on reports that Mexican military and police personnel have crossed into U.S. territory at least 216 times in the past 10 years, along with concerns about how drug dealers might be obtaining Mexican army uniforms.
"It was no doubt that it was Mexican military, because I've seen them and I've dealt with them all my life down here," said Arvin West, sheriff of Texas' Hudspeth County, whose officers filmed Monday's incident using cameras he bought to back up his allegations.
West said his deputies have caught Mexican soldiers crossing the border "to buy Snickers." But he said Monday's clash was among the more serious incidents, in which soldiers helping drug smugglers "are sitting there waiting with their machine guns to make sure [the drugs] get back OK."
The U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Antonio Garza, sent a diplomatic protest to the Mexican government yesterday, demanding an explanation and questioning Mexico's commitment to combating violence along the border.
Local authorities in Texas and U.S. Border Patrol officials have been even more strident in their criticism, saying the incursions by Mexican soldiers are common and worrisome.