- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2008

MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) - A top Mexican lawmaker said Saturday that Mexico will reject any U.S. aid to fight drug traffickers that comes with conditions.

Mexican congressional speaker Ruth Zavaleta said any conditions placed on the aid would be seen as an infringement on Mexican sovereignty.

The Merida Initiative would provide $1.4 billion over several years to help Mexico, Central America, the Dominican Republic and Haiti combat drug trafficking. But the U.S. House and Senate have imposed several conditions on the aid, including guarantees of civilian investigations into human rights abuses by the Mexican military.

“For the initiative to be successful our rights must be respected and any intentions to intervene in affairs that concern only Mexicans must be put aside,” Zavaleta said at the opening of a two-day meeting of U.S. and Mexican lawmakers in the northern city of Monterrey.

The U.S. House and Senate approved different amounts for the first installment of the aid, and the two versions must be reconciled. Both bills fell well short of the $500 million sought by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd, of Connecticut, one of 11 U.S. lawmakers at the meeting, said he would oppose an initiative with no strings attached.

“Neither the United States nor Mexico is in the business of writing blank checks,” Dodd said.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has earned strong support from Washington for his crackdown against drug cartels, carried out by more than 25,000 troops nationwide.

But violence has surged as cartels fight back with increasingly brazen attacks against security forces. Last week, a senior police officer appealed for more powerful weapons after seven federal officers were killed in a shootout with members of the Sinaloa cartel.

The Mexican government has said it would wait for a final version of the bill before deciding whether to accept the aid.

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