NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico (AP) – A Mexican ship laden with hurricane relief supplies anchored off Mississippi Wednesday night, while an aid-bearing Mexican army convoy reached the U.S. border in a journey marking the first time its military has aided the United States.

The Papaloapan, a navy vessel, arrived in U.S. waters following its voyage from the Gulf coast port of Tampico and began unloading rescue equipment by helicopter, the Mexican navy’s press office said.

Meanwhile, a convoy of 45 vehicles and 196 soldiers arrived at the border city of Nuevo Laredo Wednesday evening.

It was to cross into U.S. territory early today, Gen. Francisco Ortiz Valadez told reporters as his men refueled at a local gas station.

He said the troops would help refugee operations in San Antonio, Texas.

“Our mission is to give aid to the civilian population affected by the disaster,” Ortiz said.

Federal police briefly blocked the highway in both directions as the convoy arrived at the gasoline station.

Radio talk shows and newspapers in Mexico buzzed with excitement over news that this country, long on the receiving end of U.S. disaster relief, was sending a hurricane aid convoy north.

The convoy represents the first Mexican military unit to operate on U.S. soil since 1846, when Mexican troops briefly marched into Texas, which had separated from Mexico and joined the United States.

It included military specialists, doctors, nurses and engineers carrying water treatment plants, mobile kitchens, food and blankets.

All of the convoy’s participants will be unarmed. In July 2004, Mexican troops interrupted the funeral of a Mexican-born Marine killed in Iraq. They objected to the nonworking, ceremonial rifles carried by two Marines who came from the United States for the ceremony.

Mexico later apologized but said it has an obligation to enforce a ban on foreign troops carrying weapons in its territory.

The convoy has “a very high symbolic content,” said Javier Oliva, a political scientist at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

“This is a very sensitive subject, for historic and political reasons.”

Large Mexican flags were taped to many of the 35 olive-green Mexican Army trucks and tractor trailers as they rumbled northward toward the border Wednesday.

The convoy includes two mobile kitchens that can feed 7,000 people a day, three flatbed trucks carrying mobile water-treatment plants and 15 trailers of bottled water, blankets and applesauce. The 195 Mexicans taking part include military engineers, doctors and nurses.

“This is the first time that the United States has accepted a military mission from Mexico” for such work, said Javier Ibarrola, a newspaper columnist who covers military affairs in Mexico.

The relief mission was controversial for some Mexican lawmakers, who said the president should have sought Senate approval before sending troops abroad. But the Fox administration said no such approval was needed for aid missions. But it nevertheless later asked permission and the Senate approved it.

The government was planning to send a second, 12-vehicle aid convoy to the U.S. sometime this week and has sent a Mexican navy ship equipped with rescue vehicles and helicopters to the Mississippi coast.

AP-ES-09-07-05 2304EDT

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