Mexico said Tuesday that it had deployed about 18,000 troops to increase security on its border with the United States and protect strategic installations against terrorism as war in Iraq looms.
Interior Minister Santiago Creel told reporters that officials in northern border states had formed working groups to help prevent any terrorist infiltration into the United States if, as expected, U.S.-led forces attack Iraq.
"They have been alerted and have been in permanent session for several days now," Creel said. Immigration controls at airports, ports and land border crossings have been tightened, he said.
Security at strategic sites such as electricity installations and water plants has also been stepped up, and navy ships are patrolling the coast of Campeche state to protect oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico owned by state monopoly Pemex.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday that the United States was disappointed with neighbors Canada and Mexico for their unwillingness to support a U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Mexico was one of six undecided members of the U.N. Security Council. It never had to declare its position because the United States abandoned its push for a resolution, although President Vicente Fox said Monday that he regretted the U.S. decision to go to war.
Despite diplomatic differences over Iraq, U.S. officials say Mexican cooperation on border security and drug trafficking has improved notably since Fox took office in December 2000.