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Mexico sends force of 6,700 to battle drug cartels

CBC.ca, December 12, 2006

Mexico's new president is sending federal forces to quell a violent drug war that has claimed hundreds of lives in his home state of Michoacan.

More than 6,700 soldiers, sailors, police officers and agents are heading to the western state as part of President Felipe Calderon's promised crackdown on crime.

Security officials said police and soldiers will arrest traffickers, mount checkpoints and burn marijuana and opium poppies grown in Michoacan's rugged mountains. Navy ships will seal off the state's short Pacific coast, which smugglers travel on their way to the United States.

The federal forces will have access to 19 planes, 38 helicopters and four ships.

With its west coast ports, the rural state has been overwhelmed by drug gangs fighting for of control grow operations, manufacturing labs and drug routes to the United States.

Mexico's drug cartels have been blamed for more than 2,000 murders this year, including several police chiefs, journalists, town mayors and at least one judge.

Of the roughly 500 killings this year in Michoacan, dozens have been police officers, including some who were decapitated. Their heads were placed on public display with ominous notes warning the same fate awaited anyone who stands in the way.

"See. Hear. Shut Up. If you want to stay alive," read one note.

In the most gruesome case, gunmen burst into a nightclub in the city of Uruapan and rolled five heads onto the dance floor.

Whether Calderon's show of force is powerful enough to really make a dent in the multi-billion dollar business of these well-armed, well-established narco-traffickers won't be known for awhile.

Calderon, who took office on Dec. 1, appointed hardline Interior Minister Francisco Ramirez Acuna to oversee the fight against organized crime.

Acuna warns the battle has just started and will take time.

Former Mexican president Vicente Fox, in what he called the "mother of all battles," sent thousands of federal police to clean up the violent U.S. border town of Nuevo Laredo. Drug-related killings have since increased.

With files from the Associated Press