Mexico Rejects British
Explanations On Cavers


MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A diplomatic rift between Britain and Mexico deepened on Friday when President Vicente Fox refused to accept London's explanation of what a British military group was doing in a Mexican cave system.
Fox said Britain had not clarified questions about the six cave explorers, four of them members of the military, who were plucked from a cavern late on Thursday after spending 11 days underground. Flood waters trapped them in the caves.
``We received a reply to our request from Britain, but it is frankly unsatisfactory, we need more clarification about what this was about,'' Fox told a news conference in Nicaragua, where he is on an official visit.
The cavers had expected to fly to London on Friday, but after a full day of questioning by immigration officers in Mexico City they were to be held overnight while investigators determined if they had violated any laws, immigration officials said.
``They haven't finished yet, they just want to check a few more things,'' said British Embassy representative Vijay Rangarajan, saying the cavers could leave Mexico as soon as Saturday.
Mexico's attorney general's office said it was investigating media reports that the cavers were scouting for deposits of potentially radioactive materials.
``We do not have any indication up to this point that indicates illicit activity,'' Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, deputy attorney general, told a news conference.
The Energy Ministry later said its experts found normal levels of radioactivity at the caves. ``There is no scientific reason to believe the zone is rich in radioactive material,'' the ministry said.
Mexico does not allow foreign military exercises on its soil.
The Mexican government is upset it was not told in advance of the presence of the expedition, most of whose members belonged to an enthusiasts' group made up of active and retired British soldiers and civilians in the Ministry of Defense.
Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez spoke in strong terms. ``We are not going to tolerate on this occasion that no one explains to us exactly what their citizens were doing here,'' he said in comments published in the Mexican press.
Mexico's relations with Britain were already strained over allegations that Britain helped the United States spy on Mexico's U.N. mission in the run-up to the Iraq war.
After receiving medical checks at a military hospital, the cavers were brought in minibuses for questioning in Mexico City on Friday, accompanied by trucks bearing rifle-toting members of a special police force.
The cavers were trapped by surging underground flood waters two days into a exploration trip in the Cuetzalan caves in Puebla province.
The British Embassy had originally described them as being on a scientific mission and later clarified this to say they were mapping the cave complex, one of the most extensive in the world.
Fox had asked on Wednesday for a ``swift'' explanation of what the foreign soldiers were doing in the caves.
Britain said its minister for Latin America, Bill Rammell, met Mexico's ambassador in London on Friday afternoon and thanked him for help in getting the group out safely.
``We respect the Mexican authorities' need to clarify their immigration status,'' Rammell said, adding that he hoped the incident ``could be resolved as quickly as possible.''
Copyright 2004 Reuters Ltd.



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