Mexico expels British cavers

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The Independent US

A group of British potholers expelled from Mexico after being rescued from flooded caves was due back in the UK today.

A group of British potholers expelled from Mexico after being rescued from flooded caves was due back in the UK today.

The Mexican authorities said the 13-strong group - six of whom spent more than a week underground - had violated their tourist visas and made "false statements" about the purpose of their visit.

Rising floodwaters trapped the six potholers in caves at Cuetzalan, north-east of Mexico City, until they were rescued by a British team on Thursday after refusing local help.

The six men were held in an immigration detention centre for five days along with their seven team members who had stayed above ground at the caves.

Armando Salinas, Mexico's assistant Interior Secretary, said the expulsion orders meant the group would be barred from re-entering the country for two years because they failed to reveal the true purpose of their visit.

Immigration officials said the Britons violated two counts of immigration law, and should have applied for formal research visas. Foreign military exercises are not allowed on Mexican soil.

Salinas said: "It's because they didn't say it was a cave exploration expedition, because they didn't say they were military personnel ... that they have been expelled,"

The Attorney General's office earlier found no evidence the cave explorers acted illegally following a probe into reports they were looking for uranium.

The six detained cavers, from the Combined Services Caving Association, were taking part in Exercise Cuetzalan Tiger, a mission designed to teach self reliance, endurance and leadership.

The group was transported to Mexico City's International Airport last night in an immigration police bus with bars across the windows.

They are expected to arrive at London's Heathrow Airport at 2pm this afternoon on British Airways flight 242.

Caver Jonathan Sims, 41, who was among those trapped, earlier said the group had been victims of "bureaucratic incompetence and inefficiency."

But he said they had managed to keep their sense of humour throughout the ordeal.

His father Alan Sims last night welcomed news that Jonathan, a Shanghai-based businessman and former army major, was heading home.

"It has been a long time," he said, speaking from his home in West Sussex. "When he went into the cave, I wasn't in the least bit worried.

"But being in a Mexican prison is a little bit different."

The other detainees were RAF Sgt John Roe, in his late 30s, who is from Scotland and lives in south Wales; and Navy WO Charles Milton, 47, based in Scotland; Army soldiers Sgt Chris Mitchell, from south Wales and in his late 30s; West Country-based Captain Toby Hamnett and civilian guide Simon Cornhill, 36, from Lancashire.

Vicente Fox, Mexico's president, said last Friday that his government had demanded from the UK "clear information about what they were doing" only to receive answers which "frankly did not satisfy".

But the army's most senior officer Chief of General Staff General Sir Mike Jackson, said the cavers' difficulties had simply been the result of a "great misunderstanding" and the purpose of their expedition was to "bolster initiative and courage".

Jonathan Sims said on GMTV that he still hoped to return to Mexico.

He said: "This is my 40th trip to Mexico. I have got a lot of friends here. I have invested a lot of time exploring caves here and I don't intend to give it up.

"We have basically had a very good expedition. We have been a little bit inconvenienced on our way home but we will get over it and will carry on, and will hopefully be coming back to Mexico again soon."

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