Pubdate: Sat, 08 Feb 2003
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2003 The Dallas Morning News
Author: Ricardo Sandoval, The Dallas Morning News


Police Believe Slayings Of 5 Are Result Of Gangs' Dispute Over Territory

MEXICO CITY - At least five people were dead and several injured after
a day of what police believe is an outbreak of drug-gang violence in
Nuevo Laredo, a bustling commercial city on the Mexico-Texas border.

Three people died in an early-morning shootout Friday between groups
of heavily armed men in an area near downtown Nuevo Laredo. Two were
killed, police said, when a pickup truck was struck in the shootout
and caught fire. Another died of gunshot wounds at the scene.

Early reports Friday had suggested the dead were officials from the
Mexican Federal Investigative Agency, which has been waging a war with
drug traffickers along the Texas-Mexico border. Late in the day,
however, the Mexico attorney general's office said the dead were not
federal agents but remained unidentified.

Officials at the scene also denied persistent reports that army units
called into the shootout had destroyed a truck with a bazooka.

Five hours after the 2 a.m. shootout, police found two more bodies in
a vehicle outside Nuevo Laredo. The unidentified men had been
handcuffed and shot in the head, according to local police.

The bloody day in Nuevo Laredo is the latest in a year of violence
that has killed at least 20 local, state and federal police officers
on this stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border. The body count includes
four federal agents who were kidnapped and executed, according to
federal officials.

U.S. and Mexican drug agents suspect that the new violence is related
to rival drug gangs vying for control of a region dominated by the
Gulf Cartel. Earlier this year, Osiel Cárdenas, the Gulf Cartel's
leader, was arrested by the Mexican army after a ferocious shootout
with his bodyguards - some of whom were former soldiers and police

The violence aimed at federal police and the military may also be
retaliation against police work that is increasingly honest and
effective, said a U.S. official.

"Sometimes this is the cost of good work - you provoke a reaction,"
said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Mexican
federal forces have been a wrecking ball against the illegal drug
infrastructure for two years now, and that work is bound to invite a

The role of federal police and the military in Friday's violence in
Nuevo Laredo was unclear. What is known is that around 2 a.m., local
police reported being in pursuit of a caravan of armed men in large
vehicles. The suspects had fired upon them, and the local officers
were calling for support from army units, according to taped
conversations between dispatchers and local police, published by El
Universal, a Mexico City newspaper.

"They're shooting at us; we ask that you send in the military," one
police officer said. A dispatcher responded that the army had been
called and urged the officers on the scene to shoot at the assailants
"in the name of our fallen colleagues."

Police in Mexican border towns live complicated lives, analysts say.
The unwritten rule is called plata ó plomo - silver or lead. That
means drug lords coerce police to work with them or be shot.

"That's the rule along the border," said Alfredo Quijano, an editor at
El Norte in Ciudad Juárez, another border city plagued by drug-related
violence. "That's the reality police face, even with all of these
supposed reforms from President [Vicente] Fox."
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