At least eleven people, including seven policemen, have been killed in a shoot-out between police officers and suspected drug cartel members in Mexico's north-western Sinaloa state, media reports citing local officials said on Monday.
The gun-battle reportedly erupted after a group of gunmen ambushed the policemen while returning from the nearby town of Choix. Four of the attackers were also killed in the shootout.
Incidentally, Municipal Police Chief Hector Echaverria Islas was shot dead by suspected drug cartel members on June 29. Sinaloa Governor Mario Lopez Valdez has since handed over security duties in Choix to federal police forces after no one from the municipal police force came forward to replace the slain police chief.
Choix has been witnessing increased levels of drug-related violence in recent weeks. Two months ago, at least 21 people were killed in the town in clashes between Mexican security forces and members of rival drug gangs.
Mexico is currently struggling to contain the violence unleashed by rival drug cartels, mainly in the northern and western states, as they fight each other for control of lucrative smuggling routes to the United States.
Sinaloa is home to a major drug cartel with the same name as that of the state. The Sinaloa cartel, led by Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, has been fighting the Beltran Leyva cartel which broke away in 2008 for supremacy in the state.
The Sinaloa cartel is currently one of the most powerful organized criminal gangs in the Americas. Cartel leader Guzman is Mexico's most-wanted drug lord and has been on the run since he escaped from a Mexican prison ten years ago.
Last year, the Forbes magazine had included Guzman in its list of the world's richest men, reportedly worth more than $1 billion. He is believed to be hiding in the mountains in the northern state of Durango. The United States had declared a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.
The Mexican government says that more than 45,000 people have died in drug-related violence in the country since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against drug gangs after taking office in December 2006.
Besides fighting drug cartels, Calderon has deployed thousands of troops across the country to check drug-related violence and launched a massive anti-corruption drive named 'Operation Clean-up' to identify and punish public servants having links with drug cartels.
Calderon will now be succeeded by Enrique Pena Nieto, who has been confirmed as winner in the July 1 presidential elections. In the wake of the escalating drug-related violence in Mexico, Nieto has hired the services of former director of Colombia's police force, Gen Oscar Naranjo, to tackle the menace.
by RTT Staff Writer
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