Guatemala to put army on border in drug war

Mexican legislators rejected conditions on the anti-drug aid on Saturday as a threat to Mexico's sovereignty and called for rewriting Merida at a meeting with U.S. counterparts.

Guatemala to put army on border in drug war
Guatemala plans to send hundreds of troops, elite presidential guards and anti-drug police to its border with Mexico to stem growing drug violence, the government said on Saturday.

"The unit should be ready within about 90 days. We are talking about 500 troops" and members of the presidential guard, Interior Ministry spokesman Ricardo Gatica said.

Gatica declined to say how many counternarcotics police would be sent to the border, where drug smuggling into southern Mexico, bound for the United States, goes unchallenged.

In southern Mexico, suspected drug gunmen dumped a man's head outside a newspaper in Tabasco state on Saturday with a message threatening police and rivals, the state attorney general's office said.

"This is what will happen to those who interfere. The army won't protect you," the message read, according to a spokesman who declined to be named.

Police said a Mexican soldier died of gunshot wounds on Saturday after a shootout late on Friday in the western state of Michoacan, a major front in Mexico's war on drugs.

The Guatemalan deployment is part of a $1.4 billion U.S. anti-drug aid plan for Mexico and Central America proposed by President George W. Bush.

The so-called Merida Initiative needs U.S. congressional approval, but Gatica said Guatemala was likely to go ahead even if Congress failed to act.

Lawmakers in Washington have held up the plan with calls to attach conditions on how and where the aid -- which includes helicopters and encrypted communication devices -- is used. They also want to include human rights oversight in the package.

"Our rights must be respected"

Mexican legislators rejected conditions on the anti-drug aid on Saturday as a threat to Mexico's sovereignty and called for rewriting Merida at a meeting with U.S. counterparts.

"For the initiative to be successful, our rights must be respected and any intention to intervene in (domestic) issues must be put aside," Mexico's lower house speaker Ruth Zavaleta told the meeting in Monterrey, northern Mexico.

The U.S. Senate wants Mexican soldiers accused of crimes to be tried in civilian courts. It also wants federal officials to take on state and local anti-drug roles, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy says.

The government of Mexican President Felipe Calderon says any conditions for the aid are unacceptable because Mexico is undergoing its own police and judicial reform.

But Sen. Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, warned that "we will not give (Mexico) a blank check."

Guatemala, a key transit point for South American cocaine into Mexico and the United States, is seeing growing drug violence between gangs vying for smuggling routes into Mexico.

More than 1,400 people have been killed in drug violence this year across Mexico in cartel turf wars, a faster rate than in 2007, when around 2,500 died over the year.

Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Haziran 2008, 14:25
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