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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 March, 2004, 18:48 GMT
Press puzzles over UK cavers' mission

The case of six British potholers trapped in a cave has sparked frenzied speculation in the Mexican press over the reason for their presence in the country.

Mexican soldiers (left in green uniforms) confer with British speleologists near the cave where six Britons are trapped
Mexican authorities demand a clear explanation from the British

The story has made front page news in leading dailies, with some reports suggesting the six - five of whom are British military personnel - were searching for raw materials for making nuclear weapons.

One paper even got a UN chemical weapons inspector in Iraq to comment on the possibility of the presence of uranium in the Cuetzalan caves where the potholers were trapped.

Diplomatic row

"British provoke chaos", reads a headline in Reforma, while El Universal splashes the story "Diplomatic row erupts from Puebla cave".

British provoke chaos
Reforma

El Sol de Mexico carries a large, front-page headline "Mexico protests to Britain" beside a picture of rescue teams at the entrance to the cave in which the British group has spent eight days.

"The case has sparked a row after it was suggested they had come to check the presence of uranium in the caves, " the paper says.

El Sol also says the Mexican army had agreed to help with the rescue "after the failure of the contingency plan worked out months ago in Great Britain for just such an emergency".

It reports that the governor of Puebla state has called for their immediate deportation for "violating national laws".

El Universal quotes the Mexican President, Vicente Fox as saying "the crux of the diplomatic issue is that the Britons entered on tourist visas and may have been doing more than simply exploring the mountains of Puebla".

Suspicions

The leading leftist daily La Jornada states unequivocally, "They are military personnel, and were studying a gas near Cuetzalan".

They are military personnel, and were studying a gas near Cuetzalan
La Jornada

La Cronica de Hoy publishes divergent opinions as to the possible presence of uranium in the Cuetzalan caves.

A UN chemical weapons inspector who has worked in Iraq, Jose Luis Gonzalez, believes there could be uranium deposits in Puebla.

"The attitude of the Europeans raises suspicions. Maybe they obtained satellite images indicating the possibility of uranium or other radioactive metals."

The governor of Puebla, Melquiades Morales Flores, also believes the uranium story, according to La Cronica.

Interrogation call

But the daily quotes the head of the Mexican Union of Speleologists, Juan Antonio Montano Hirose, as rejecting the accusations, saying the group "is internationally renowned and has regularly collaborated with Mexican researchers".

English spies
El Universal

"The caves were formed hundreds of millions of years ago. They are made of calcium carbonate, so there is no uranium," Mr Montano Hirose says.

The potholers are accused of being "English spies" in a public opinion forum set up by El Universal.

"Before deporting them, they have to be interrogated and be forced to tell the truth, what they were doing. The Englishmen must be very interested in these grottoes. We've got to extract the full story from them."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




SEE ALSO:
UK cavers prompt diplomatic row
25 Mar 04  |  Americas
British cavers wait to be rescued
25 Mar 04  |  Americas
Britons trapped in Mexican cave
23 Mar 04  |  Americas


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