Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Wave of Violence in Southern Mexico Reveals Severed Heads, Hidden Graves

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Wave of Violence in Southern Mexico Reveals Severed Heads, Hidden Graves

Article excerpt

ACAPULCO, Mexico Soldiers and police fanned out Friday across the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, chasing a wounded gang leader and trying to quell a wave of violence that included the discovery of hidden graves holding dozens of bodies and a camp where gunmen stored the severed heads of nine rivals in a cooler. The clashes between drug gangs were complicated by the fact that townspeople fed up with the violence had formed "community police" vigilante squads in many places. The squads often prevent police and soldiers from moving freely and sometimes act on behalf of the gangs.

Gov. Hector Astudillo announced that federal authorities would return to patrol areas where dozens of often-dismembered bodies have been dumped on roadsides in recent weeks.

The state has been riven, not just by the killings, but by the kidnapping of about a dozen people in the town of Ajuchitlan. Residents there announced they would create a vigilante force to look for the kidnap victims, an idea that threatened to create yet another armed group.

The Ajuchitlan residents were apparently kidnapped last week by a fugitive gang leader known as "El Tequilero," who was believed to be wounded and hiding out with his kidnap victims in the mountains.

The state attorney general headed up a massive manhunt using helicopters and ground troops to look for him. But Astudillo warned that the vigilantes would have to withdraw to allow police and soldiers to do their jobs.

"The army, the state police, they can't be there with armed groups, Astudillo said. "Withdraw, and we will enter immediately. But for the two to be there at the same time, that is not possible."

The governor also announced the creation of mixed army-police patrols in parts of the state torn apart by cartel turf battles. One such area is the municipality of Zitlala, where a drug gang had set up a rural camp where it held kidnap victims and disposed of bodies.

When one of the joint military-police patrols happened upon the camp earlier this week, it found a kidnapped man and what appeared to be clandestine burial pits. …

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