Tags: LT | Drug | War | Mexico

Army, Drug Gangs Battle in Mexico Amid Blockades

Friday, 19 Mar 2010 10:44 PM

A shootout in the northern city of Monterrey killed two suspected drug cartel gunmen and wounded a soldier Friday. Suspected gang members also blocked roads leading out of the city for the second day, in a bold attempt to impede security patrols.

Gunmen opened fire on an army patrol outside the gates of a prestigious private university in Monterrey, Mexico's third-largest city and a major industrial hub, the army said in a statement.

Soldiers seized guns, ammunition and hand grenades at the scene.

The wounded soldier is in stable condition.

Hours later, gang members blocked four major roads, including three leading out of Monterrey, according to an official with the Nuevo Leon state Public Safety Department.

The gang members fled after parking the trucks and other vehicles across the roads, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons. Authorities towed the cars away, the official said.

It was the second straight day of street blockades, a novel tactic that drives home how imbued Mexico's drug war has become in the daily life of some cities — and how audacious cartels have become in their battle against the military and federal police.

Two of the vehicles blocking the roads Thursday were set on fire a few hundred yards (meters) from toll booths.

The same day, gunmen in a convoy of six vehicles opened fire on a navy helicopter on a reconnaissance patrol in Fresnillo, outside of Monterrey. Marines aboard the chopper returned fire, killing one of the gunmen.

Separately, the navy announced the capture of Alberto "Bad Boy" Mendoza, suspected of being a chief cartel operator linked to the Beltran Leyva gang and others in Monterrey.

President Felipe Calderon has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and federal police across Mexico over three years in a U.S.-backed campaign to crush brutal cartels battling each other for trafficking and drug dealing turf.

Gang violence has since surged, claiming nearly 18,000 lives.

At least 40 soldiers have been arrested on drug trafficking charges and another 38 have been accused of abuse against civilians, including torture and killing, said Brig. Gen. Jose Luis Chavez, Mexico's top military prosecutor.

He said ongoing investigations may lead to the arrest of 50 more soldiers on abuse charges.

To date, however, no soldier has been convicted of abuse, prompting criticism from local and international human rights groups who also say Mexico should be trying soldiers accused of human rights violations in civilian rather than military courts.

Chavez insisted the military does not systematically engage in abuse or corruption.

"Mistakes are inevitable when working in such a risky situation, in which your life is in danger every day," Chavez said. "But mistakes must be punished."

In the western state of Michoacan, meanwhile, a judge ordered the release of yet another of 12 town mayors arrested last year for suspected cartel ties.

Zitacuaro Mayor Antonio Ixtlahuac was the eighth to be freed for lack of evidence, a setback for Calderon's efforts to show politicians are not immune to prosecution.

The mayors have all maintained their innocence.

After nearly 10 months behind bars, Ixtlahuac walked out of a prison outside the state capital of Morelia hours after the judge gave the order. He smiled and told reporters he felt vindicated before driving off in a black Mercedes Benz with several relatives.


Associated Press writers E. Eduardo Castillo and Alexandra Olson in Mexico City contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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