28 dead in Mexican 'drug gangs gun battle'
Authorities say rival factions clashed in highway battle involving high-powered weapons and grenades.
Last Modified: 26 May 2011 07:03
Mexican marines carried out an operation Wednesday that resulted in the capture of more than a ton of cocaine [EPA]

Twenty-eight people have been killed in a highway gun battle in western Mexico in what authorities say was a clash between two drug gangs.

The gunfight started at about 5:00pm near the town of Ruiz (805 kilometres northwest of Mexico City) on Wednesday, the Nayarit state attorney general's office said.

Authorities said that police initially responded to a kidnapping report in a nearby city. The armed men involved reportedly fled on the federal highway, the prosecutors office said, and as officers were en route, they were informed of the shootout, involving the same men.

Police found 28 men dead and four others wounded when they arrived on the scene.

Ten abandoned vehicles and bullet casings from high-powered weapons were scattered around them.

The statement from the attorney general's office, which was released late on Wednesday, did not give any further details.

Local media reported that the rival gangs had exchanged hails of gunfire and lobbed grenades at one another for about an hour. Shops in the area hurriedly closed and terrified residents took cover indoors, they said.

Residents flee 

Earlier in the day, an official in the nearby western state of Michoacan said that violence between drug cartels has prompted 700 villagers to abandon their homes and take refuge in five shelters, set up in a church, an event hall, a recreation centre and at schools.

Residents told the local authorities that violence between rival drug factions was making it too dangerous for them to continue to live in outlying districts. The latest reports were of arsonists burning down avocado farms in the nearby town of Aacahuato.

"We woke up with fear [on Monday], but things appeared to have quieted down. It wasn't until later that morning that we saw SUVs with armed men driving by very fast and shooting at each other," said a woman who did not want to be named for security reasons.

Several displaced people said they would stay at the shelters all week before considering going back to their villages.

"I am not scared, but my children are,'' said a mother, who asked not to be quoted by name because of fear of retaliation.

The Norway-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that about 230,000 people in Mexico have been displaced by drug-related violence.

The fighting in Michoacan is believed to be between factions of the local La Familia drug cartel, some of whose members now refer to themselves as "The Knights Templar".

Arrests and seizures

Violence in the state has flared in the last few days. On Tuesday, gunmen opened fire on a Mexican police helicopter, hitting two officers and forcing the aircraft to land. The two officers suffered from non-life-threatening wounds, police said.

On Wednesday, federal police announced that they had arrested a man who was allegedly a part of the March 28 killing of Juan Francisco Sicilia, the son of Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, and six other people in Cuernavaca, in the country's south.

Police said Julio de Jesus Radilla and two other suspects were picked up Wednesday in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.

Also on Wednesday, the Mexican navy said that its marines had seized ranches, houses, weapons and drugs belonging to the Zetas drug gang in northern Coahuila state.

The raids resulted in the capture of more than 1,000kg of cocaine, and marines arrested six men who were guarding the drugs stash.

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