World News

Mexico arrests mayors, police chiefs in drug war

MORELIA, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican troops rounded up 10 mayors and a string of police chiefs on Tuesday suspected of links to drug gangs in a western state, one of the biggest single corruption sweeps in the government’s drug war.

Soldiers burst into police stations and town halls to arrest 27 public officials in Michoacan, the home state of President Felipe Calderon and the place he launched his army-led assault on drug cartels in late 2006.

The officials included a judge and a former police chief who is an aide to the state governor. The attorney general’s office said all were suspected of links to drug smugglers.

Calderon has staked his presidency on crushing drug gangs whose turf wars have killed some 2,300 people so far this year, apace with 6,300 drug murders in 2008. Some 45,000 troops and federal police have been deployed across the country.

In the northwestern state of Durango, where a burst of cartel killings have shaken up formerly quiet towns, the body was found on Tuesday of a Mexican crime reporter believed murdered by drug hitmen.

Durango is part of the home territory of top drug fugitive Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, who is fighting a Michoacan cartel known as “La Familia” (The Family) for control of the area.

Small towns in marijuana-growing Michoacan are under siege from rival cartels who want control of rural outposts along smuggling corridors, stretching the army in sparsely inhabited mountains that hide drug plantations and laboratories.

Soldiers present Jose Carlos Trevino, a suspected drug gang hitman, to the media at a military base on the outskirts of Monterrey, northern Mexico, May 5, 2009. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo

Local officials and police are often bribed or terrorized into helping the well-armed gangs that move billions of dollars of narcotics into the United States every year.

The town of Uruapan, where the mayor was arrested on Tuesday, made headlines early in the drug war in 2006 when hitmen dumped five human heads on the dance floor of a bar.

U.S. President Barack Obama praised Calderon’s campaign in a visit to Mexico in April and U.S. officials say escalating violence is a sign of drug gangs’ weakness.

But corrupt police and officials are undermining the government’s efforts and many security analysts predict a long fight before the cartels’ power is noticeably diminished.

In Durango, the state attorney general’s office said armed, hooded men burst into the home of Eliseo Barron, a police reporter for the national daily Milenio, and abducted him on Monday night in the northwestern town of Gomez Palacio.

“His body was found naked and with bullet wounds in an irrigation ditch,” said Michoacan’s deputy attorney general, Noel Diaz. Milenio also confirmed Barron’s killing, though it was not clear why he was targeted.

Mexican journalists reporting on drug gangs are often harassed by traffickers and serious attacks appear to be increasing.

Another journalist, Carlos Ortega, was shot dead this month in Durango as he investigated police corruption.

Since 2006, at least 17 journalists have been killed in Mexico, making it one of the deadliest countries for the media, according to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

(Reporting by Alonso Hernandez in Morelia, Pedro Galindo in Durango and Miguel Angel Gutierrrez in Mexico City; Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Catherine Bremer)

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