June 14, 2005
Mexico deploys federal forces to border city

By Jorge Vargas
The Associated Press

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico - Mexican soldiers and federal agents began patrolling this embattled border city Monday while authorities investigated dozens of Nuevo Laredo police officers for possible links to organized crime, officials said Monday.

Over the weekend, the Mexican government deployed federal forces to three states to contain surging violence linked to organized crime.

There is evidence that organized crime elements have penetrated some local police departments, presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar said at a news conference in Mexico City.

"There are very clear clues of the relationship between the police of Nuevo Laredo with drug trafficking; thus the decided action," Aguilar said.

President Vicente Fox sent hundreds of soldiers and federal agents to the border cities in March to restore order. But the killing of Nuevo Laredo's police chief last week hours after he took office reignited concerns about lawlessness.

Federal police and troops stood guard outside police stations across the border city of Nuevo Laredo on Monday, two days after local police opened fire on a convoy of federal agents, wounding one, as they arrived in the city across the U.S. border from Laredo.

About 60 police officers who got off the night shift early Monday remained inside the Nuevo Laredo police headquarters, but officials wouldn't say whether they were under arrest.

Local police could have suspected the convoy to be a front: Mexican criminal groups often attempt to pass themselves off as law-enforcement officers. But the attorney general's office has insisted that its investigative police made no provocative movements and never fired.

No city police officers appeared to be at work Monday in Nuevo Laredo. The attorney general's office and local officials would not say whether the city Police Department had been formally closed or taken over.

Authorities detained 41 city police officers immediately after Saturday's confrontation and flew them to Mexico City for questioning.

Despite concerns about corruption, federal authorities have to rely on state and local police, "who know how crime operates, who is who in every place," Aguilar said.

Federal police and investigators backed by military forces made more than 70 arrests as they arrived over the weekend in the states of Baja California, Tamaulipas and Sinaloa, Aguilar said.

Aguilar declined to say how many officers and troops are participating in the new operation, which will include military highway patrols and roadblocks.

Violence has surged in many of Mexico's northern border cities as reputed drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman leads an offensive to control drug smuggling along the entire Mexico-U.S. border, according to federal prosecutors.

The new federal deployment, dubbed Operation Mexico Secure, also targets Sinaloa, which is the home state to Guzman and many drug chieftains and in which more than 250 killings have occurred this year.