- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 6, 2009

MEXICO CITY | A pair of shootouts between troops and gunmen in northern Mexico have killed 13 people, including a bystander and a suspected drug trafficker linked to the killing of a retired army officer.

Navy spokesman Adm. Jose Luis Vergara said troops were searching a villa Friday in a suburb of Monterrey named Juarez when they were ambushed by a group of heavily armed men. Eight gunmen were killed and nine more were arrested in the initial shootout, he said.

Television images showed a garden littered with bloodied corpses. Several handcuffed men sat on the ground with shirts pulled over their heads and a line of automatic rifles nearby.

Adm. Vergara said soldiers had gone to the villa to check an intelligence report that suspected drug trafficker Ricardo Almanza Morales was there. He said one soldier was wounded and is in stable condition.

Mr. Almanza Morales, killed in the attack, was accused of working for the Zetas, drug traffickers who also serve as enforcers for the Mexican Gulf cartel, and of killing army Brig. Gen. Juan Arturo Esparza and his four bodyguards in a November attack.

Gen. Esparza was killed shortly after he was named police chief in the Monterrey suburb of Garcia. Five Garcia police officers were among 10 people arrested in Gen. Esparza’s killing.

Nuevo Leon state Attorney General Alejandro Garza y Garza said in Monterrey that a second shootout that left five people dead ensued when gunmen in at least 10 SUVs heading to the villa, presumably to rescue those detained, ran into a military convoy.

During that shootout, one of the gunmen’s cars burst into flames. Three people inside died, Mr. Garza y Garza said. Television images showed three charred bodies, two of them with their hands tied behind their backs.

Mr. Garza y Garza said the driver was a drug trafficker and the other two apparently were drug dealers who had been kidnapped. A fourth body was found about 165 feet from the burning vehicle. A woman who was driving near the shootout was killed by a stray bullet, and two other bystanders were wounded, he said.

Seven people were arrested during the second clash, Mr. Garza y Garza said.

Hours after the shootouts, gunmen suspected of working for the Zetas attacked a detention center in the Monterrey suburb of Escobedo, killing two federal police officers guarding it and freeing 23 inmates, he said.

Confrontations between soldiers and drug traffickers have grown more frequent in Monterrey, Mexico’s wealthiest city, as troops fight drug dealers and corrupt police officers helping drug cartels.

Drug-fueled violence has cost more than 14,000 lives across Mexico since President Felipe Calderon sent troops to crackdown on cartels in late 2006.

Also Friday, all eight government officials, including the mayor of the town of Tancitaro, in Michoacan state, resigned their posts, claiming they have been threatened by drug traffickers, and none of the local police officers showed up to work.

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