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Mexico says death toll from drug war is falling

CUERNAVACA, Mexico (Reuters) - The death toll from Mexico’s drug war has dropped by about 25 percent in the first three months of this year from the last quarter of 2008, Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said on Thursday.

Medina Mora told reporters after meeting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder in the city of Cuernavaca that drug violence killed 1,600 people from January to March.

The figure was still almost double the 850 deaths associated with drug trafficking reported in the first three months of 2008 but seemed to reflect a drop in killings in the violent border city of Ciudad Juarez since the army sent 5,000 troops there last month.

Drug killings in Mexico jumped last year to an unprecedented 6,300 despite an army crackdown ordered by President Felipe Calderon. Rival hitmen fighting for control of smuggling routes have murdered police and beheaded rivals.

Napolitano and Holder attended a meeting in Cuernavaca on arms smuggling and repeated a pledge by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week to toughen up U.S. border checks.

The Mexican government also announced the capture of a drug baron from Ciudad Juarez. Vicente Carrillo Leyva was seized while exercising in a park in an upscale residential district of Mexico City.

The drug war has blown into a huge challenge for Calderon and is starting to frighten away investors and worry foreign tourists whose dollars are increasingly needed as the economic crisis bites.

President Barack Obama will visit Mexico later this month, following a trip in March by Clinton, as Washington frets that spiraling drug violence could spill over the border.

Mexican officials say 90 percent of the weapons used by drug traffickers come from the United States, and Washington has pledged to do more to block illegal arms going south.

“The reality is that too many weapons are flowing from the U.S. and into Mexico and having a negative impact on the government of Mexico’s ability to fight the narcotraffickers,” Holder told a news conference.

“We will take responsibility for what is happening and do all we can on our side of the border to stop the flow of guns.”

Additional reporting by Anahi Rama, editing by Chris Wilson