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Amid border crime wave, Mexico's Fox calls for stricter punishments for corruption
Saturday, June 18, 2005

Associated Press Writer

MEXICO CITY -- President Vicente Fox condemned "the terrible bubble" of killings and violence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday, the same day that another execution-style killing occurred in the troubled border town of Nuevo Laredo.

Four young assailants pulled out guns and shot down Filiberto Pena, 22, as he sat in a truck on the city's main square with his mother and two-year-old son. The father was hit five times -- once in the head -- while his son was grazed in the head by a bullet, but the wound was not life-threatening.

The shooting not only occurred in broad daylight, but in the middle of a demonstration by about 500 people demanding the release of 41 city policemen detained for questioning as part of a crackdown on drug-fueled violence in the city.

Prosecutors have said about a dozen of those police officers -- some of whom were allegedly involved in a shootout with federal agents -- had criminal investigations pending against them.

Some demonstrators at the Friday protest also carried signs demanding federal agents leave the city.

But Fox promised to step up the battle against crime.

Speaking at an event in Mexico's capital, the president said he would submit new sentencing proposals to Congress, saying "we cannot accept that our own police forces are those that are contaminated."

"We are up to the challenge and will do battle with all kinds of criminals," Fox said.

Authorities in both countries blame the violence on a war for control of key smuggling routes into the United States between two of Mexico's most powerful drug syndicates.

Last week, the chief of police of the industrial border hub of Nuevo Laredo was shot dozens of times and killed mere hours after he took the post, prompting Fox's government to send soldiers and federal agents while suspending the whole city police force.

His comments came as Mexican officials were preparing to meet with federal counterparts from the United States to discuss arms trafficking and ways to stop the border bloodshed.

Members of a working group on criminal investigation formed as part of the U.S-Mexico Binational Commission were to meet in Mexico City on Friday evening.

Addressing reporters in Washington on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called border violence "a very serious problem."

"We're very concerned about it and we're raising it at all levels of the Mexican government," she said.

At his morning briefing with reporters Friday, Fox spokesman Ruben Aguilar said that the crime wave "as Secretary Rice acknowledged yesterday, is the co-responsibility of both countries."

"We don't want violence on the border: not on the Mexican side or the U.S. side," Aguilar said.

U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said hours later, "We're seeing action by the Mexican government that's noteworthy and important."

But, he added, "This is a big challenge and we need to continue to stay on it."

On Thursday, gunmen shot and killed Pedro Madrigal, commander of a detail of anti-drug agents assigned to Mexico City's international airport.

Aguilar said that since Madrigal took his post in November, the 321 kilograms (708 pounds) of cocaine agents had seized is "the most important amount in the history of the Mexico City airport."

"The investigation has revealed that there is a relation between the ... extreme effectiveness of this official against organized crime and his killing," Aguilar said.

He shrugged off suggestions that the wave of killings could be seeping south from the border to other locales, including the nation's capital.

"We all know that this is basically concentrated in the states of the north," he said.

But Aguilar added that anti-narcotics investigators are always potential targets of hit men working for drug pushers.

"That's common sense. The Mexican state assumes that," he said. "Of course it's a risk, any official in the line of fire against organized crime knows that he is also in the sights of the criminals."