Mexican governor calls for tougher crackdown

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The governor of violence-torn Chihuahua state on Monday urged President Felipe Calderon to revamp his anti-crime strategy after a weekend shooting there killed 13 people, including a baby.

Gunmen opened fire Saturday on a family gathering in the northern border state, which has become Mexico's most violent spot amid bloody feuding between drug gangs and a government crackdown on them.

Chihuahua this year has accounted for more than 800 killings, according to the federal attorney general's office.

More than 2,500 people have died in drug violence nationwide this year, according to several unofficial tallies by the Mexican media. The government seldom discloses the overall death count. Last week, an official in the attorney general's office provided homicide statistics from several states, including Chihuahua, to a group of foreign reporters.

Chihuahua Gov. Jose Reyes Baeza called on federal authorities to improve intelligence gathering, clean up corrupt police forces and review a government offensive that has deployed more than 3,000 troops and federal agents in Chihuahua.

The shooting incident, in a tourist town named Creel, showed the need to "rethink and re-launch" the approach, Reyes Baeza said in a broadcast statement.

"The strategy and actions to guarantee people's safety in the state should be radically modified," said the governor, a member of the once-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party. Calderon belongs to the conservative National Action Party.

Reyes Baeza said the wave of violence in Chihuahua had claimed 130 lives so far this month. "This trend is unacceptable and must be contained," he said.

Reyes Baeza said Mexico's crime crisis should even prompt the country to look anew at personal liberties. "We can't continue understanding security in terms that existed at the beginning of the 20th century, in the Constitution of 1917," he said. He did not say which rights he thinks should be curtailed.

Chihuahua and Mexican news reports said gunmen opened fire on a gathering outside an events hall in Creel, a mountain gateway to the picturesque region known as Copper Canyon.

Most of the victims were members of the same family, including the son of Creel Mayor Eliseo Loya Ochoa, officials said. One of those killed was a 16-month-old boy.

Soldiers and federal police joined a search for the gunmen but had reported no arrests by Monday.

Authorities said the effort was still underway.

The Calderon government's 20-month-old offensive against drug gangs has roiled the drug-trafficking world, aggravating tensions between rival groups as they joust for control of smuggling routes.

One of the most ferocious battles has raged in Chihuahua, especially in Ciudad Juarez, on the U.S. border, where traffickers based in Sinaloa have sought to usurp the so-called Juarez cartel's position.

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