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Confusion over Mexico drug-lord death reports

Guatemalan official apologises for misunderstanding over reports that Joaquin "El Chapo" died amid clashes.
Last Modified: 22 Feb 2013 20:32

A Guatemalan official has said there was no evidence that Mexico's most-wanted drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, had been killed in a shootout in the rural north, calling such reports a misunderstanding.

Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, interior minister, told local media on Friday that the original account was based on testimony from residents in San Valentin near the Mexican border, but that soldiers and police scanning the area found no sign of any confrontation.

"I apologise if where was a misunderstanding," Lopez told the Guatemalan radio station Emisores Unidos.

"It was a mix-up. We were referring to information generated from the area that there was possibly a crime scene with a dead person resembling El Chapo."

Authorities mounted the search on Friday in the tropical state of Peten, an isolated area known for the transport of livestock.

"As of now, we have no verification," Lopez said.

Most wanted fugitive

An Associated Press news agency photographer in the area also found no signs of shootout or victims, just a checkpoint of 12 soldiers stopping vehicles in an area considered to be held by Mexico's Zetas cartel, Guzman's biggest rivals.

Guzman heads the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's most powerful international drug-trafficking network, and has been in hiding since escaping from a Mexican prison in a laundry cart in 2001.

He is one of the world's most wanted fugitives, as well as one of the richest. Forbes magazine has estimated his fortune at $1 billion.

Lopez said on Thursday that authorities were investigating whether Guzman was one of at least two men killed in the remote area. But the government later backtracked and said it had only received reports of a battle from local people.

Francisco Cuevas, government spokesman, first told Guatevision Television that two drug gangs had clashed in Peten, an area that has seen an increase in drug violence and that at least two men had died in the shoot-out.

Peten province is an isolated area of jungle and ranches where 27 ranch workers were massacred in 2011 by the Zetas drug gang, a top rival for Guzman's Sinaloa drug cartel.

No body found

Later, Cuevas told Mexico's Televisa network that authorities had not yet found a body or the scene where reports said a shoot-out took place.

He never said what led officials to think that one of the dead men might be Guzman.

Guzman, who has been in hiding since escaping from a Mexican prison in a laundry cart in 2001, is one of the world's most dangerous and most wanted fugitives.

He is also one of the richest: Forbes magazine has estimated his fortune at $1bn.

Al Jazeera's John Hendren, reporting from Mexico City, said that the incident "is one of the more spectacular examples of initial information apparently being wrong".

"In this case what we had was Guatemalan officials speaking on the record to a broad range of news organisations and confirming, first of all, that there was a shoot-out on the Guatemalan boarder with Mexico, and second of all, that they were investigating the possibility that Joaquin Guzman ... was one of the victims there," he said.

"Today we're told that that in fact was not true, that those reports were based on reports to Guatemalan officials from local area people."

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Source:
Al Jazeera And Agencies
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