Body count from Mexican mass graves nears 300

MEXICO CITY Wed Apr 27, 2011 10:57am EDT

A forensic worker stands next to a truck parked outside the La Piedad embalming building in Mexico City, and containing 50 bodies found in a mass grave in northern Mexico, April 19, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

A forensic worker stands next to a truck parked outside the La Piedad embalming building in Mexico City, and containing 50 bodies found in a mass grave in northern Mexico, April 19, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Jasso

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The number of murder victims unearthed in mass graves in northern Mexico this month has risen to 279, making it easily the worst discovery of its kind since the government began a campaign against drug cartels.

Attorney General Marisela Morales said on Tuesday the body count from 40 graves in the border state of Tamaulipas had risen to 183 while an official in the state of Durango, farther west, said 96 older corpses had been uncovered in two separate finds.

"The excavations will continue today and they will probably find more bodies," the Durango official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The mass killings have become an increasing headache for President Felipe Calderon in his bid to bring the cartels to heel. More than 37,000 people have died in the country's drug war since it began in late 2006.

Disputes over how to conduct the crackdown have frayed relations with Washington, Mexico's co-sponsor in the drug war.

The Mexican government has blamed the Zetas cartel for the Tamaulipas deaths, which have led to 74 arrests, among them 17 police officers. It has yet to identify suspects in Durango.

The two graves in Durango are in the state capital, also known as Durango, where 21 additional bodies were found buried in a housing estate on Tuesday, the official said.

Almost none of the victims have been identified, although drug war experts believe many of the dead in Tamaulipas were probably migrant workers who refused to cooperate with the gangs.

(Reporting by Miguel Angel Gutierrez and Dave Graham; Editing by Bill Trott)

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