Wed, Mar 09, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Mexican drug war claims 18 victims

NON-AGGRESSION PACT:The captured leader of the Zetas drug cartel reportedly told police that his group had a truce agreement with three rival gangs

AP, CULIACAN, MEXICO

Marcos Carmona Hernandez, center, the alleged leader of the Zetas drug cartel, is presented to the press in Mexico City on Monday.

Photo: AFP

Gunbattles between rival gangs killed 18 people in a northeastern Mexican town on Monday, a day after seven police officers and an inmate died in an ambush of a convoy transporting prisoners in western Mexico.

The fighting in the town of Abasolo erupted on Monday morning and left at least 18 people dead, the Tamaulipas state government said in three-sentence statement that offered no details. The shooting came a month after shootings in the nearby town of Padilla also killed 18 people, several of them innocent bystanders.

Tamaulipas has been wracked by a turf war between the Zetas and Gulf cartels, and information on violence in some of the smaller towns is notoriously scarce. Often official confirmation does not come for hours or days, leaving residents to cower in their homes and communicate through social media.

Tamaulipas residents sent Twitter messages about Monday’s shootings hours before the government confirmed the bloodshed. Some tweets warned people to stay indoors and others demanded official information.

Under constant threat from drug gangs, the Tamaulipas state media often ignore drug-gang violence completely.

In northwestern Sinaloa state, meanwhile, gunmen swarmed a convoy transporting two prisoners, shredding three police vehicles with bullets and killing seven officers and one inmate, Sinaloa Attorney General Marco Antonio Higuera said on Monday. Six officers and the second inmate were wounded.

Attackers traveling in about 20 vehicles caught the police convoy in a crossfire on Sunday near the city of Guasave, Higuera said.

“The patrol vehicles were destroyed. It was practically a massacre,” Higuera said. “Initial reports indicate there were 1,200 shell casings at the scene.”

The three state police patrol vehicles were traveling to the state capital of Culiacan when they came under fire from attackers who apparently lay in wait on a highway. Higuera said the officers fought off a first attack, but were later caught in concentrated fire from a larger number of vehicles.

Federal police, meanwhile, said a newly captured leader of the Zetas drug cartel revealed it has a non-aggression pact with three other gangs — the Juarez, Beltran Leyva and Arellano Felix organizations. While the four gangs are not known recently to have been fighting major turf wars with each other, it was the first mention of a formal truce between them.

The alleged Zetas leader, Marcos Carmona Hernandez, was arrested on Monday in the southern state of Oaxaca, said Ramon Pequeno, the federal police anti-narcotics chief.

Hernandez, 29, allegedly took over command of Zetas operations in Oaxaca after the Jan. 17 arrest of his reputed predecessor, Flavio Mendez Santiago. Pequeno said Hernandez is suspected of several kidnappings and murders and allegedly had the collaboration of corrupt state and municipal police.

Pequeno said Hernandez revealed the non-aggression pact to police, the latest insight into Mexico’s drug underworld of shifting alliances.

The agreement, however, appeared to be confirmation of reality more than a game-changer. The four gangs in the pact have a common enemy: the powerful Sinaloa cartel led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, one of the world’s most-wanted drug lords.

Jorge Chabat, a Mexican expert on the drug trade, said the pact would be difficult to corroborate,but was not surprising.

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