- Associated Press - Friday, May 5, 2017

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Gunbattles between rival drug gangs in the Mexican border city of Reynosa have left 12 people dead, authorities say.

The office of the security spokesman for the northern state of Tamaulipas said via Twitter that five people were killed in two gunbattles Thursday. Another seven people were killed earlier in the violence that began Tuesday.

The disputes between rival factions of the Gulf cartel follow the killing of leader Julian Loisa Salinas, known as “Comandante Toro,” by military personnel in late April.

The cartel gunmen have burned vehicles, blocked roads, attacked military patrols and fought gunbattles on city streets.

The administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto has long faced security problems in Tamauilpas, as in many other border areas, but in the last year violence has spread to other parts of Mexico that had previously been relatively peaceful.

On Wednesday, gunmen believed to be linked to fuel-theft gangs opened fire on military patrols in the central state of Puebla, killing four soldiers. The ensuing confrontation left six assailants dead.

The gunmen used local residents as human shields to attack the army, and townspeople blocked roads to demand the army be withdrawn.

On Friday, during a speech commemorating the Cinco de Mayo festivities, Pena Nieto acknowledged that the thieves, who drill into government pipelines to steal fuel, have recruited local residents in some parts of Mexico.

“The organized crime groups use, and deceive, the people to commit crimes,” Pena Nieto said. He called on prosecutors and state-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, to come up with a strategy to combat pipeline thefts.

Puebla Gov. Antonio Gali said that he would not ask for the army to pull out of the area and, on the contrary, that about 2,000 more soldiers were being deployed to enforce security.

“We have to put a stop to this theft of fuel from the pipeline,” Gali said in an interview on the Televisa network.

Pemex has announced plans to step up security in the past, but has apparently failed to implement them. The company no longer even releases figures on the number of illegal pipeline taps, but 5,574 were found in 2015 alone.

In a separate incident involving drug traffickers, Mexican federal police announced Friday they caught four suspects who allegedly used hidden compartments on buses and trucks to smuggle narcotics to the United States.

The suspects were caught on Mexico City’s outskirts with about 400 pounds (185 kilograms) of cocaine and 13 pounds (5.8 kilograms) of heroin.

Also Friday, five people were killed in the Mexico City suburb of Nezahualcoyotl at a building where a political party was holding a morning training session ahead of upcoming elections in the State of Mexico.

State prosecutors said in a report that three police officers, a security guard and an unidentified civilian were slain in what was an apparent robbery attempt by at least four assailants that erupted into gunfire.

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