Valles Garcia is yet to complete her degree in criminology [Reuters]

As drugs-related violence in Mexico continues at a staggering pace, in one municipality where seasoned professionals have failed to provide security a 20-year-old student has been appointed as chief of the police force.

Marisol Valles Garcia was sworn in on Wednesday as head of a small police team in Praxeids G Guerrero, one of the most dangerous towns close to the US border, near El Paso in Texas.

However, she will have to juggle the role with other commitments, having yet to complete her degree in criminology in the neighbouring city of Ciudad Juarez, the centre of much of the cartel-related violence, and being the mother of an infant son.

Valles Garcia's team consists of 13 agents, including nine women, with one patrol car, three automatic rifles and a pistol at their disposal. Praxeids, situated in Chihuahua, Mexico's most violent state, has a population of 8,500 people.

'New generation'

Two rival gangs - the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels - are fighting for control of Praxeids, whose single highway is on a drugs smuggling route into Texas.

"The situation can improve if we believe in ourselves and believe there is hope. I want to carry this through and show that we can do this," Valles Garcia said.

"We are doing this for a new generation of people who don't want to be afraid anymore."

Valles Garcia said that she has not received any death threats since assuming her position last week. Her predecessor and the former major did so, but both survived their terms.

The new chief's police experience is only a stint as a department secretary, although Jose Luis Guerrero, the town's mayor, said that she was the best candidate for the job from several applicants.

Guerrero had requested proposals on how to improve security in Praxeids from residents, and liked Valles Garcia's ideas so much that he offered her the position.

Valles Garcia has been assigned two bodyguards but will not carry a gun. She says she will leave most of the decisions about weapons and tactics to Guerrero.

Eight officers in Praxeids quit two years ago due to insecurity, leaving only three at Valles Garcia's disposal on her arrival. She has since appointed another ten, to which five more will be added.

Mexico is suffering runaway drugs violence, with about 29,000 people being killed in related incidents since Felipe Calderon, the president, began a military crackdown in December 2006.

More than 7,000 people have died in Ciudad Juarez since early 2008.

Source: Agencies