- Associated Press - Friday, September 3, 2010

MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) — Soldiers killed 25 suspected cartel members Thursday in a raid and gunbattle in a Mexican state near the U.S. border that has seen a surge in drug gang violence, the military said.

A reconnaissance flight over Ciudad Mier spotted several gunmen in front of a property, according to a statement from Mexico’s Defense Department. Mier is across the Rio Grande from Roma, Texas, in the border state of Tamaulipas state, just south of Falcon Dam.

When troops on the ground moved in, gunmen opened fire, starting a gunbattle that killed 25 suspected cartel members, according to the military. The statement said two soldiers were injured but none were killed.

Earlier, a military spokesman had said the shootout happened when troops on patrol in neighboring Nuevo Leon state came under fire from a ranch allegedly controlled by the Zetas drug gang.

The spokesman, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, said the troops returned fire at a ranch, known as “The Stump.” A defense department statement later said the shootout took place in Tamaulipas.

Authorities rescued three people believed to be kidnap victims in the raid, according to the statement. The military said troops seized 25 rifles, four grenades, 4,200 rounds of ammunition and 23 vehicles.

Violence has surged in northeastern Mexico this year since the Zetas broke ranks with their former employer, the Gulf cartel, making Tamaulipas one of the country’s most dangerous battlegrounds.

In June, gunmen ambushed and killed the leading candidate for state governor a week before the elections. And in May a mayoral candidate in Tamaulipas was assassinated.

In August, Mexican marines discovered the bodies of 72 Central and South American migrants believed to have been gunned down by the Zetas after refusing to smuggle drugs, in what may be the deadliest cartel massacre to date. The dead migrants were discovered at a ranch about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the U.S. border in Tamaulipas.

The Zetas began as a gang of drug assassins but have since evolved into a powerful cartel.

Drug violence has claimed more than 28,000 lives since President Felipe Calderon intensified a crackdown on cartels after taking office in late 2006.

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