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Federal agents seized a ton of marijuana in the southwestern Tohono O'odham
Nation just a few hours before a U.S. Border Patrol agent in the same area
reported being shot at by Mexican soldiers.

The coincidence of the smuggling attempt and the shooting has convinced
some Border Patrol agents that the soldiers were involved in moving drug
loads that afternoon.

Edward "Bud" Tuffly, the president of the Border Patrol agents union in
Southern Arizona, called the coincidence "highly suspicious."

It appears, he said, "that the military was involved in drug smuggling down
there, or at least protecting it."

The Mexican government has denied that its soldiers were even in the area
where the shooting took place on the night of May 17. Further, Mexican
officials have suggested that criminals dressed in military- style uniforms
may have been responsible for the shooting, not actual soldiers.

In the past, Mexican soldiers have been involved both in fighting the
illegal-drug trade and in corruptly aiding it for profit.

A Mexican investigation of the incident is not yet complete, and U.S.
investigators are still looking into it, too. But U.S. Customs Service
reports put the shooting in a new context.

About 2:30 on the afternoon of May 17, a customs helicopter crew flying
over the southwestern Tohono O'odham Nation saw two vehicles crossing the
border illegally, said customs spokesman Roger Maier. The crossing by a van
and a Chevrolet Suburban took place about three miles east of Menager's
Dam, which is about 100 miles southwest of Tucson.

When the helicopter came into view of the vehicles, both vehicles turned
back south, Maier said. But the Suburban became disabled, and two people
got out and ran back to Mexico, he said.

Inside the Suburban, agents found 2,172 pounds of marijuana, Maier said.
The van made it back into Mexico.

About six hours later, a Border Patrol agent was working a few miles to the
east, near Papago Farms, when he came across a Humvee carrying heavily
armed people whom the agent identified as Mexican soldiers. The Humvee and
the Border Patrol vehicle, a marked Chevrolet Tahoe, came within 100 yards
of each other on the north side of the border, according to a Border Patrol
report on the incident.

The agent turned to leave the area, then heard a gunshot tear through his
vehicle as he fled, the report said.

Another incident involving a Humvee took place near Papago Farms that
afternoon, but it is not clear whether it happened before or after the
customs drug seizure. A Tohono O'odham police ranger reported he was chased
by men in a military-looking Humvee, Tuffly said.

The agents in the Ajo station, including the one who was fired on, were
informed of that incident at their afternoon muster before the shooting,
Tuffly said.

Tohono O'odham Nation spokesmen have declined to offer details of the
incident involving the ranger. However they acknowledged that tons of
marijuana are moving through the nation.

In April, Tohono O'odham police seized 15,907 pounds of illegal drugs,
almost all of it marijuana, tribal spokesman Matt Smith said. In the same
month, customs agents working in the corridor where the shooting took place
seized more than 22,000 pounds of marijuana.

If the alleged soldiers were really involved in smuggling, they may not
have been helping transport a load themselves, said Ron Sanders, the chief
of the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson sector from 1995 to 1999. They could
have been acting as a decoy to distract American law enforcement from loads
moving through elsewhere.

"I don't think that's unusual," he said.


Pubdate: Mon, 03 Jun 2002
Source: Arizona Daily Star (AZ)
Copyright: 2002 Pulitzer Publishing Co.
Contact: letters@azstarnet.com
Website: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/today/
Details: Overload Warning
Author: Tim Steller
Bookmark: Overload Warning (Cannabis)
Bookmark: Overload Warning (Corruption)
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