Dozens killed in west Mexico battles

Gun battles between rival drug traffickers force hundreds of residents to flee their homes in Michoacan state.

    Children from Michoacan's various regions are deeply affected by the ongoing violence. The words read, 'No more executions' [REUTERS]

    A gun battle between rival drug gangs in western Mexico has left 29 bullet-ridden bodies in fake military uniforms heaped across a roadway and inside bullet-riddled vehicles in the Pacific coast state of Nayarit, the army said.

    The bodies, all male, were found on Wednesday scattered around 14 shot-up pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles, two of which had bulletproofing.

    Television images of the scene near the town of Ruiz showed what appeared to have been a convoy of cartel vehicles that had been ambushed or engaged by another column of gunmen on a stretch of rural highway.

    Military-style boots, bullet proof vests, hand grenades and thousands of rounds of ammunition were also found at the scene.

    The army said two suspects wounded in the battle were found at the scene, though there was no information on what gang they belonged to. Nayarit state police had originally said that officers responding to reports of a kidnapping found four wounded men at the scene of the shootout.

    It was unclear if the two reported by the army were included in, or additional to that figure.

    The army said in a statement on Thursday that around the same time on Wednesday, soldiers engaged in a shootout with armed suspects in a town about 60km north of Ruiz.

    Two suspects - a man and a woman – were killed in that confrontation. It was unclear whether the two shootouts were related.

    Cartels get territorial 

    Nayarit and the nearby states of Michoacan and Zacatecas have become battlegrounds for drug cartels fighting for control of the area.

    The Sinaloa drug cartel, Mexico's most powerful, has long been active in Nayarit, but it has recently been challenged by remnants of the Beltran Leyva cartel and the Zetas.

    In Michoacan, officials said more than 700 people fled their villages amid fighting between rival drug traffickers, which appeared to be unrelated to the Nayarit conflict.

    It is at least the second time a large number of rural residents have been displaced by drug violence in Mexico.

    In November, about 400 people in the northern border town of Ciudad Mier took refuge in the neighbouring city of Ciudad Aleman following similar gun battles. That shelter has since been closed and most have returned to their homes.

    Mexico still has fewer people displaced by violence than countries like Colombia, according to the Norway-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, which tracks such figures.

    It estimates about 230,000 people in Mexico have been driven from their homes, often to stay with relatives or in the United States.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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