Mexico to track drug war victims, compensate families

MEXICO CITY Wed Jan 9, 2013 6:39pm EST

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's new government on Wednesday introduced a long-delayed law to trace victims of a brutal drug war that has killed an estimated 70,000 people in six years, and compensate the families of those deemed innocent.

The bill, which was approved by Congress last April, had stalled after former President Felipe Calderon objected to parts of its content. New President Enrique Pena Nieto signed the bill into law on Wednesday, and it will take effect in a month.

The law comprises the creation of a fund to pay relatives up to $70,000 per innocent victim killed in attacks by drug gangs, as well as a database that aims to help record what happened to the dead.

The government did not specify how many innocent victims have been caught up in the violence nor how much money would be put aside for compensation.

Pena Nieto has vowed to reduce the criminal violence that soared after Calderon launched an assault on drug cartels on taking office in December of 2006.

Calderon's campaign triggered turf wars across the country, splintering gangs and spawning smaller, harder-to-control criminal groups.

Attorney General Jesus Murillo estimated last month that some 70,000 people had died in drug-related violence under Calderon, with roughly 9,000 bodies unidentified.

In just a few weeks since taking power, Pena Nieto has managed to move thorny initiatives through a divided congress, showing the negotiating muscle of his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which was ousted from power in 2000 after a 71-year rule.

Lawmakers have already passed an education reform bill that aims to rein in Mexico's powerful teachers union, which many have blamed for hurting school quality in Latin America's second biggest economy.

However, while Pena Nieto clinched a cross-party pact on priorities for a wider reform agenda, the government could have to compromise as it seeks to overhaul the energy sector and tax code.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz and Cyntia Barrera; Editing by Simon Gardner and Sandra Maler)

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