WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Wednesday again threatened to close part of the southern border and send more “armed soldiers” to defend it if Mexico did not block a new caravan of migrants travelling towards the United States.

“A very big Caravan of over 20,000 people started up through Mexico,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “It has been reduced in size by Mexico but is still coming. Mexico must apprehend the remainder or we will be forced to close that section of the Border & call up the Military.”

Trump also said, without offering details, that Mexican soldiers recently had “pulled guns” on US troops in what he suggested was “a diversionary tactic for drug smugglers.” “Better not happen again! We are now sending ARMED SOLDIERS to the Border. Mexico is not doing nearly enough in apprehending & returning!” Trump tweeted. It was not clear what Trump meant by “armed soldiers” since at least some of the troops on the border already are armed. It also was unclear what specific caravan Trump was alluding to.

US officials said they are expecting a request from the Department of Homeland Security in the coming days for additional troops, although that number is expected to be in the low hundreds. About 5,000 active duty and National Guard troops already are at the border.

The US Defence Department said earlier this month that six Mexican military personnel questioned two US Army soldiers near Clint, Texas, about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of El Paso. The US military said the Americans were in an unmarked car and an inquiry had found that they were in US territory.

Newsweek magazine, citing the military report on the incident, said the US soldiers were briefly held at gunpoint by the Mexicans, who took one US soldier’s gun and put it in the car.

The Mexican troops had believed the US soldiers were south of the border and therefore in Mexico. After a brief discussion, the Mexicans troops left the area, a Mexican official said. Asked about Trump’s tweet at a news conference, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said his administration would investigate the incident Trump mentioned.

“But we’re not going to fight with the US government,” he said. “We are not going to allow ourselves to fall into any provocations.” Trump has made a tough stance on immigration a cornerstone of his presidency. He called the situation at the southern border a national emergency as a way to get money to build a border wall after Democrats in Congress thwarted traditional means of funding.

Officials arrested or denied entry to more than 100,000 people along the Mexican border in March, more than twice as many as during the same period last year, according to US Customs and Border Protection.

In March, Trump threatened to close the border if the Mexican government did not immediately stem illegal migration, although later, he praised Mexico for efforts to stop people from crossing illegally into the United States.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2019