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Marines ordered to stay clear of Tijuana

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., Jan. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. Marines in Southern California must stay clear of Tijuana, Mexico, and other nearby "R&R" spots due to Mexican violence, a Marine Corps officer ordered.

Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland's order restricts travel by the 44,000 members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Pendleton, about 50 miles north of the border city.

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The limits, first put in place around Christmas, are now indefinite, a military spokesman said.

"The situation in Mexico is now more dangerous than usual," civilian public information officer Mike Alvarez told USA Today.

"The intent is just to look out for the Marines' safety and well-being," he said.

Many of the Marines have had multiple tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat zones, USA Today observed.

Tijuana, just south of San Diego, has been hit hard by drug violence. The city saw its bloodiest year ever in 2008, with 843 killings, compared with 337 the previous year, USA Today said.

"There have been incidents from time to time" involving Marines getting in trouble in Tijuana, Alvarez said, but he did not know how many got in trouble.

Helland's order requires a lieutenant colonel or higher-ranking officer to give written approval for cross-border travel -- whether for official business, to visit family or for free time, known in the military as rest and relaxation or R&R.

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Marines venturing over the border also must complete antiterrorism training, receive a military security briefing and travel with someone else 18 or older, Helland's order said.

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