World News

Drug gangs kill nine in Honduras as violence grows

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Suspected drug hitmen killed nine people in Tegucigalpa in one of the deadliest attacks in Honduras since Mexican drug kingpins escalated their war over smuggling routes, police said on Sunday.

Masked men with automatic weapons opened fire in the street in a poor area of the Honduran capital on Saturday night and then burst into two houses, killing seven men and two women, police said. Several bodies lay in the street, oozing blood, police said.

“These deaths were provoked by territorial disputes between drug traffickers,” Tegucigalpa’s police chief Mario Chamorro told reporters.

Since last year, drug violence has been rising in Honduras, a key transit route for Colombian cocaine heading to the United States, as powerful Mexican cartels fight over smuggling corridors through Mexico and Central America.

Some 1,600 people died in drug violence in Honduras in 2009. Honduran authorities say Mexico’s top trafficker, Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, is trying to crush rivals from the ruthless Gulf cartel from northeastern Mexico who are also fighting for control in Central America.

Guzman is believed to own several properties in Honduras and recently spent time on vacation at a Honduran beach resort popular with U.S. and European tourists, according to police and the Honduran government.

Drug violence is raging across Mexico. Almost 20,000 people have died in the fight among cartels and with Mexican security forces since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched an army-led crackdown on drug gangs in late 2006.

The escalating violence is scaring off tourists and causing worries in the United States, which is giving anti-drug aid, equipment and police training to Mexico and Central American countries.

Some investors have frozen investment in Mexican factories in cities on the U.S. border, especially in Ciudad Juarez, the most deadly flash point in the drug war.

Editing by Will Dunham