Mexico Cracking Down in Drug Stronghold

By IOAN GRILLO
The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 12, 2006; 3:39 PM

APATZINGAN, Mexico -- Thousands of troops rolled into a key Mexican drug stronghold Tuesday to set fire to marijuana and opium fields and round up traffickers, sent by President Felipe Calderon to restore order in a region where smugglers have defied authorities with beheadings and large-scale drug production.

Navy ships were patrolling the Lazaro Cardenas port, a hub for drugs arriving from Central America and Colombia on their way to the United States.

Cornelio Casio, one of several generals overseeing the operation in the western state of Michoacan _ Calderon's home state _ said 6,500 soldiers and federal police were deployed.

"We aren't going to lose any time," he said. "We are completely focused on this war."

The campaign echoes crackdowns by previous Mexican presidents who repeatedly ordered mass firings of drug-corrupted police, revamped courts, sent thousands of troops to battle traffickers and accelerated drug seizures _ without making much of a dent in the quantity of narcotics crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

In an interview Tuesday with the Televisa network, Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said the operation was aimed at "reconquering territory" controlled by drug gangs.

"It's not just a war against drug lords," he said. "It's a war against the entire criminal structure."

Medina Mora acknowledged drug lords will likely just find another stronghold, saying, "It's a complicated war." But, he added, "It is a war we can win."

Calderon brushed aside concerns the crackdown could lead to violations of human rights and claim innocent victims.

"It's about recovering the calm, day-to-day life of Mexicans who live in the state," he said Tuesday.

Calderon took office Dec. 1, promising to fight the execution-style killings, corrupt police and defiant gangs that plagued Vicente Fox's presidency. Calderon has budgeted more funds for law enforcement and appointed a hard-line interior secretary, Francisco Ramirez Acuna.

U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza has repeatedly expressed concern about the rising violence, some of which has spilled into the United States, and the State Department has warned U.S. citizens about travel to Mexico.


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© 2006 The Associated Press