Pubdate: Mon, 8 Jun 2009
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Times
Author: Ken Ellingwood, Reporting from Mexico City
Note: Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to 
this report.
Bookmark: Mexico Under Siege (Series)

Mexico Under Siege


The Hours-Long Battle That Killed Two Soldiers and 16 Gunmen Took
Place Several Miles From the Main Strip of Tourist Complexes.

As if Mexican tourism needed more bad news, a weekend shootout left 18
gunmen and soldiers dead in Acapulco, the iconic if faded beach resort
that has been working on a comeback in recent years.

The hours-long gunfight Saturday night took place in a seaside
neighborhood of homes and cut-rate hotels that is mainly frequented by
Mexicans and sits several miles from the main strip of tourist
complexes. Some guests were reportedly evacuated from nearby hotels,
but no tourists were known to have been caught in the crossfire.

But the specter of Mexico's drug war spilling into one of the
country's best-known resort spots is a fresh blow to a tourism
industry that has been hit hard by a swine-flu outbreak and previous
worries about escalating drug-related violence.

The area where Saturday's shootout took place is home to budget motels
and establishments whose glory peaked decades ago. The zone offers
scenic views and was once favored by Hollywood stars such as "Tarzan"
actor Johnny Weissmuller, who co-owned Los Flamingos Hotel with John

Gunfire could be heard some distance away at the Hotel

"Yes, there was fear on the part of some guests because even though
the shooting was not close to our facilities, shots could be heard.
And you could see a lot of movement of soldiers," hotel spokesman
Ruben Morales said. "That frightened people who live here and
tourists, of course."

The gun battle began after army officials received an anonymous tip,
according to a military statement. Troops came under fire when they
arrived at a house in the western section of the resort city, the
statement said.

The army said 16 gunmen and two soldiers died during the gunfight.
Some news media reports said the gunmen belonged to the Beltran Leyva
drug-trafficking gang, based in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, but
they could not be immediately confirmed.

Soldiers later recovered 49 rifles and handguns, 13 grenades and two
grenade launchers, the army said. The cache held more than 3,000
rounds of ammunition.

Media accounts said an army colonel escorted reporters to the house
after the shootout. Inside were four handcuffed officers from the
Guerrero state police who said they had been kidnapped, the Associated
Press reported. The colonel, who wore a mask and spoke on condition of
anonymity, said the army had not confirmed their account.

The Acapulco area has seen scattered drug-related violence, though it
is not a key battleground in the Mexican government's war against drug
cartels. But coastal Guerrero state is a well-used route for smuggling
illegal drugs from South America toward their main market in the
United States and has been the scene of regular clashes between rival
drug traffickers.

Tourism has taken a beating after the outbreak in late April of the
H1N1 flu virus, which shut down much of the country for weeks and
scared off many would-be visitors. Tourism Minister Rodolfo Elizondo
said the downturn due to the flu could cost Mexico 100,000 jobs and $4
billion this year.

The flu episode only aggravated damage caused by travelers' concerns
over drug-related violence that has killed more than 10,000 people
since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon announced a
crackdown on organized crime.

Mexico's tourism promoters have sought to allay fears by contending
that despite frequent killings in hot spots along the U.S. border, the
county's main resorts are safe. They have also offered discounts on
hotels to lure travelers back after the flu outbreak.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake