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Suspected drug hitmen dump 12 bodies on Mexico road

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NUEVO CENTRO, Mexico (Reuters) - Police found 12 bodies tortured, executed and dumped on the side of an isolated highway in western Mexico on Monday, the latest victims of an ongoing feud between rival drug cartels.

A threatening message likely written by drug gangs was found near the bound and beaten bodies of 11 men and one woman piled up and wrapped in a tarp, said police at the scene.

“It seems they were all killed by gunshots,” said an official at the Michoacan state prosecutors office. “It is a place in the middle of nowhere.”

Police found four bodies in the same spot a week ago, also shot and left with a narco-message.

Officials say the Gulf cartel’s armed wing, known as the Zetas and infamous for their brutality, is fighting a group of smugglers from the western state of Michoacan called “La Familia” (The Family) for control of inland territory.

President Felipe Calderon has sent thousands of troops across Mexico to rein in the cartel turf wars. But drug-related violence has surged, killing 12,300 people since he took office in December 2006.

Mexican officials captured a high-ranking member of The Family this past weekend, sparking a series of retaliatory attacks against security forces in the states of Michoacan, Guerrero and Guanajuato, Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said at a news conference on Monday.

Rival gangs have taken their fight over Mexico’s $40 billion-a-year drug trade to new ground as they battle for cocaine smuggling routes running up from Central America into the world’s top drug consumer, the United States.

U.S. authorities worry the violence will spill over the U.S.-Mexico border and have pledged $1.4 billion in aid to help Mexico combat the cartels.

Reporting by Miguel Garcia, writing by Mica Rosenberg; editing by Eric Beech