Mexico says troops cut drug deaths in border city

Mon Mar 23, 2009 7:11pm EDT

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CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico, March 23 (Reuters) - Mexico has dramatically cut drug murders in its most violent city on the U.S. border after deploying 7,500 soldiers earlier this month, the government said on Monday.

"The number of violent deaths linked to organized crime in Ciudad Juarez has fallen by more than 70 percent," Public Security Minister Genaro Garcia Luna said in a speech in the manufacturing city across from El Paso, Texas.

Drug violence stemming from a turf war between Mexico's most-wanted man, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, and the long dominant Juarez cartel escalated to unprecedented levels at the start of the year, with up to 15 drug murders a day.

Since the start of March, when the 7,500 troops and around 2,500 federal police rolled into the city and took over the municipal police and prisons, the drug murder rate has fallen to around two murders a day, police say.

President Felipe Calderon has about 45,000 soldiers across Mexico fighting cartels but has never before sent so many troops to one city.

But anti-drug experts say it is too early to say if drug crime in Ciudad Juarez, prized by traffickers for its location in the middle of the 2,000 mile (3,200 km) border with road and rail links deep into the United States, has been controlled.

Police have found two buried bodies this month and a prominent lawyer was shot dead on a busy road close to military patrols on March 11, the same day Mexico's First Lady Margarita Zavala visited the city.

More than 6,300 people died in drug violence across Mexico last year and while drug violence in Ciudad Juarez appears to be calming, killings are rising in the western state of Michoacan and in the normally peaceful northern state of Durango. (Reporting by Julian Cardona; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)




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