Mexico nabs police accused of backing gang massacre

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 13, 2011 11:33 PM
Mexico nabs police accused of backing gang massacre

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican security forces arrested 16 municipal police officers accused of protecting drug gang hitmen who massacred dozens of people near the U.S. border, the country's Attorney General said on Wednesday.

Soldiers have uncovered at least 116 corpses since last week in mass graves in the town of San Fernando near Texas, in one of the most gruesome finds so far in Mexico's drug war.

Attorney General Marisela Morales said the brutal Zetas drug cartel was behind the atrocity and offered rewards of up to 15 million pesos ($1.2 million) for help tracking down several of the gang's local leaders.

"The government promises ... to get to the bottom of these regrettable and deplorable events and put an end to police corruption," Morales told reporters, reading from a statement.

Morales said 17 suspected gang members who participated in the killings have been arrested so far. She declined to give more details about any possible motives for the massacre or the identities of the victims.

The graves were near a ranch where 72 Central and South American migrants were killed last year by the Zetas preying on undocumented migrants heading north in search of work in the United States.

More than 37,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderon sent in the army to fight the drug gangs in 2006, worrying Washington and some investors and tarnishing Mexico's international image as a top tourist destination.

The victims in the state of Tamaulipas, one of the drug war's worst flashpoints, may have been killed after refusing to work for the Zetas, according to media reports. The gang is increasingly making a name for itself as the most violent of Mexico's powerful cartels.

Guatemala's Foreign Ministry said this week one of its citizens was among the dead in Tamaulipas. It is unclear how many were illegal immigrants, who are being targeted for kidnap by drug gangs seeking to hold them to ransom.

The incessant drug violence threatens to damage the chances of Calderon's conservative party retaining the presidency in elections next year. It has also raised tensions with the United States, Mexico's co-sponsor in the campaign against the cartels and its top trade partner.

The two countries have accused each other of hindering progress, straining diplomatic relations to the point where the U.S. ambassador to Mexico resigned last month.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Vicki Allen)