Severed head greets new troops in Mexico drug war

MONTERREY, Mexico Sat May 12, 2007 5:31pm EDT

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MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - Drug cartel members dumped a severed head outside a military base in the Mexican port of Veracruz to warn newly arrived troops of more violence in an escalating war on drug traffickers, authorities said on Saturday.

"We found the head of a man on Friday night with a message warning the army not to mess with the drug cartels, to expect a fierce battle," said an official at the Veracruz state attorney general's office, who declined to be identified.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon sent hundreds of soldiers and federal police to Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico on Friday night after gunmen on Thursday killed four Mexican policemen who worked as bodyguards for the family of a senior politician.

Authorities suspect the powerful Gulf cartel or a rival breakaway gang, "Gente Nueva" (New People), were behind the beheading and its message.

In Mexico's western drug-producing Michoacan state, where heavily armed troops fought drug gang members this week, federal police arrested the state's investigative police chief on Saturday for possible links to drug cartels, authorities said.

Drug violence in Mexico has spiraled since the start of the year as the Mexican army and police try to end a war between a coalition of gangs on the Pacific coast and the Gulf cartel -- based just south of Texas -- for dominance of smuggling routes to the United States.

At least 800 people have been killed this year.

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