Mexico launches special police force to guard economic activity

MEXICO CITY Fri Aug 22, 2014 4:35pm EDT

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MEXICO CITY Aug 22 (Reuters) - Mexico on Friday launched a scaled-back version of a new police force President Enrique Pena Nieto had vowed to create while on the campaign trail to safeguard businesses against rampant organized crime.

Pena Nieto originally promised to create a 40,000-member Gendarmerie Division to take the lead in tackling violent crimes such as extortion and kidnapping, given that poorly paid security forces have been easy targets for the cartels to infiltrate and corrupt.

But the 5,000-member force launched on Friday will be part of the federal police and focus on guarding agriculture, mining, and oil and gas production against criminal groups, said Monte Alejandro Rubido, director of the National Security Commission.

"If there is organized crime that could disrupt production, then the Gendarmerie will be there," he told a news conference on Friday. However, companies would not be able to request its services, he added.

Mexico's Congress this year put the finishing touches on an overhaul of the country's energy sector aimed at boosting sagging production by luring private investment into an industry long-dominated by ailing state oil giant Pemex.

Many private energy companies have expressed interest in investing in Mexico's vast untapped fields, but are concerned about the added security costs of operating in some hotspots in the country.

Around 100,000 people have died and more than 20,000 have disappeared since former President Felipe Calderon in 2006 sent in the military to fight the cartels, which led to greater violence.

In the past few years, criminal gangs have diversified their activities beyond drugs to kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking and fuel robbery.

With the addition of the gendarmerie, the federal police will have more than 40,000 members in its ranks. (Writing by Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein; Editing by Alexandra Alper and Simon Gardner)

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