Mexico catches drug baron as U.S. tightens border

MEXICO CITY Fri Apr 3, 2009 3:25pm EDT

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican police have captured a drug baron from the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez, the country's most violent place in a turf war among trafficking gangs that killed 6,300 people last year.

Vicente Carrillo Leyva, 32, a leader of the Juarez cartel, was seized while jogging in a park in an upscale residential district of Mexico City, police said on Thursday.

He was presented to the media, wearing a white track suit, shortly before U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder arrived for talks with the Mexican government about plans for tougher border controls to stop U.S. weapons reaching Mexican drug gangs.

"His capture marks another significant victory for Mexican law enforcement," the U.S. Embassy in Mexico said.

The Juarez cartel is locked in a bitter war with rivals from the northwestern state of Sinaloa for control of smuggling routes into Texas. The fighting prompted the government to send 5,000 extra troops into Ciudad Juarez last month.

Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora, meeting Napolitano and Holder in the city of Cuernavaca, said the 1,600 drug-related murders so far this year were 25 percent less than during the last three months of 2008.

That likely reflected a drop in the number of killings in Ciudad Juarez, an important manufacturing center, in recent weeks.

"LORD OF THE SKIES"

Carrillo Leyva is the son of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, a drug lord known as the "Lord of the Skies" who flew jetliners full of cocaine into Mexico in the 1990s and who reportedly died in 1997 during plastic surgery to change his appearance.

Mexico put a $2 million reward on Carrillo Leyva's head in a list of dozens of top drug smuggling suspects made public last month. He was one of two Juarez cartel members listed.

Carrillo Leyva had "roles of leadership and managing illicit resources in the organization," senior prosecutor Marisela Morales told reporters.

The drug war has blown into a huge challenge for President Felipe Calderon and is starting to frighten investors away from northern Mexico and worry foreign tourists whose dollars are increasingly needed as the economic crisis bites.

U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Mexico later this month, following a March trip by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as Washington worries that drug violence could spill over the U.S. border.

Mexican officials say 90 percent of the weapons used by drug gangs come from the United States.

"The reality is that too many weapons are flowing from the U.S. and into Mexico and having a negative impact on the government of Mexico's ability to fight the narcotraffickers," Holder told a news conference.

"We will take responsibility for what is happening and do all we can on our side of the border to stop the flow of guns."

The U.S. government has pledged to ramp up checks of vehicles entering Mexico to seize weapons and drug cash.

Clinton said in Mexico last week that the delivery of some $1.4 billion of drug-detection equipment promised to Mexico and Central America under a 2007 agreement ought to be speeded up.

(Additional reporting by Michael O'Boyle in Cuernavaca; Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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