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Mexico questions officers in 12 deaths

Published Aug. 27, 2005

Mexico's top law enforcers said Thursday that 13 state police officers were under investigation for drug trafficking and murder. They also attributed a wave of 70 killings this month to internal warring among multibillion-dollar cocaine cartels.

Officials said the state police officers were being questioned in the deaths of 12 people whose bodies were unearthed in the back yard of a house in Ciudad Juarez this week; the 12th was found Thursday.

The officers, who have been detained but not arrested, worked on night-shift drug squads in Ciudad Juarez, the capital of the state of Chihuahua, on the Texas border. Their commander, Miguel Angel Loya, who didn't show up for work Monday and hasn't been seen since, is being sought for questioning, Chihuahua state police spokesman Mauro Conde said.

The officers were flown to Mexico City for questioning.

"This is very serious," said Mexico's chief organized-crime prosecutor, Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos. "It points to extreme corruption in the police force, extreme corruption in law enforcement. Instead of serving and protecting the people, they are openly conspiring with criminal drug cartels."

In Mexico drug trafficking is a $250-billion-a-year industry, far bigger than any legitimate business, and its main customers are Americans. Over the past decade, thousands of law enforcement officers have been fired and hundreds jailed for collaborating with drug kingpins, whose principal product is Colombian cocaine. In Chihuahua alone, more than 300 officers have been dismissed for corruption since 2001.

The state police in Chihuahua have repeatedly been denounced as a lethally corrupt force, most recently by human rights groups inside and outside Mexico.

Officials said the house where the 12 bodies were found was used as a hideout by a drug trafficking suspect, Humberto Santillan, arrested two weeks ago across the Rio Grande in El Paso, Texas, on cocaine-trafficking charges.

The killings throughout Mexico this month may be signs of score settling or murderous competition among the cartels. Mexico's attorney general, Raphael Macedo de la Concha, attributed the killings among drug traffickers to increasing pressure from law enforcement officials.

"They are fighting among one another," he said. "They are killing one another because they cannot find a place to peacefully carry out their crimes."

Federal Deputy Attorney General Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos told W Radio in Mexico City that "some elements of the state judicial police" were involved.

The man who rented the house, Alejandro Garcia, was arrested Tuesday and told police he took part in the killings at the order of state police officers and the Vicente Carrillo drug gang.

The discovery of the bodies led relatives of some of the dozens of other missing men to ask police for information. Lorenza Benavides, vice president of the Association of Relatives and Friends of the Disappeared, said her organization had the names of at least 197 missing men.

_ Information from the New York Times and Associated Press was used in this report.