4 Armed Mexican Marines Arrested on Beach in U.S.

Times Staff Writer

Four Mexican marines in uniform and armed with loaded assault rifles were arrested on a beach south of here after they had walked about 1 1/2 miles into U.S. territory and were spotted talking to a group of beach-goers, Border Patrol officials said Monday.

The arrests occurred at about 10:30 p.m. Sunday after a Border Patrol helicopter spotted them in Imperial Beach talking with about 15 people described as picnickers.

Border Patrol spokesman Mike Nicley said that the border area where the Mexicans crossed is clearly marked and charged that the Mexicans intentionally crossed the border illegally.


Harold Ezell, Immigration and Naturalization Service Western regional commissioner, said that the marines were repatriated at 5:30 p.m. Monday to a Mexican marine officer. The men and their weapons were turned over to the custody of Capt. Nemesio Ramon Matus, who apologized for the incident and said it was unintentional, Ezell said.

“The men (marines) were very courteous and conducted themselves very well. . . . Capt. Matus was extremely sincere in his statement and said this will not happen again,” Ezell said.

Nicley said the four marine privates tried to flee south back to Mexico when they were detected.

Although Border Patrol agents--normally armed with .357 magnum revolvers and shotguns--were heavily outgunned, the Mexicans did not resist and were taken into custody without violence, Nicley said.

Border Patrol officials refused to release more details about the incident except to say that “the investigation is still in the embryonic stage.”

However, Luis Morones, Mexican consul general in San Diego, said that consular officials who spoke with the Mexican servicemen were told that they inadvertently crossed the border as they were chasing two “suspects” they believed to be drug or arms traffickers.


“It wasn’t intentional. They ran across the border in pursuit of the two suspects. We don’t know if they were Mexican or U.S. citizens,” Morones said.

He added that the four are assigned to a marine detachment in Rosarito, which is located about 18 miles south of Tijuana.

Ezell said Border Patrol officials believe the marines’ story, which he said was confirmed in part by six illegal aliens who were interviewed by Border Patrol agents.

“I feel that they were (telling the truth). They said that they had problems in the Playa de Tijuana area. . . . We had six illegal Mexican aliens in custody who had been contacted by these guys,” Ezell said. “All they did was lay them down and search them for drugs. They didn’t take anything from them. I told the captain that we’re not perfect. We all make mistakes.” State Department spokesman Ben Justesen said that U.S. officials have no plans to file a diplomatic protest with the Mexican government over the incident. But Justesen termed the entry “an infringement of U.S. territorial sovereignty, which is unacceptable regardless of the motivation.”

Despite the violation of U.S. territory, Justesen played down the incident and said that the Mexicans may have had a good reason for entering the United States.

“Although we don’t have an agreement with Mexico concerning this issue, the United States believes that the concepts of joint interdiction and hot pursuit whereby the border between the United States and Mexico ceases to be an artificial impediment to all enforcement activities have merit,” Justesen said.

Nicley said that Border Patrol investigators are attempting to find members of the group of picnickers, but as of late Monday had not interviewed any of them.