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Mexico sends thousands more troops to stop gang violence

MEXICO is sending thousands more troops and federal police to the country's most violent city, where law and order is on the brink of collapse in a war between gangs supplying drugs to the United States.

The army said yesterday the deployment of up to 5,000 personnel could take the number of soldiers and federal police to more than 7,000 in Ciudad Juarez, which is across the US border from El Paso, Texas.

This month alone, drug hitmen killed 250 people in Juarez, where a meeting of cabinet members on Wednesday was rattled by three bomb scares, forcing soldiers to briefly shut the city's international airport.

"We're throwing everything into this. We are cleaning the house," President Felipe Calderon told Mexican television.

There are now 2,020 soldiers and 425 federal police in Ciudad Juarez, a city of about 1.6 million people.

Calderon's military operation is supported by the US, which is concerned the violence could destabilize Mexico, a key trading partner, and spill over the border.

Mexico has deployed about 45,000 troops across the country to try to crush drug gangs but clashes between rival cartels and security forces killed about 6,000 people last year.

Drug trade analysts say Mexico's most-wanted fugitive, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, who leads a cartel from the Pacific state of Sinaloa, wants control of Ciudad Juarez, currently in the hands of local drug lord Vicente Carrillo Fuentes.

Ciudad Juarez is in the cross-fire as Guzman's hitmen seek to destroy the Juarez cartel's entire operation, drug experts say. Kidnappings and extortion of business people are rampant.

In what could be a new scare tactic by the gangs, a newspaper received an anonymous bomb threat on Thursday.

Police evacuated the El Heraldo office in the state capital Chihuahua, south of Ciudad Juarez, after a man called the paper to warn of two bombs planted in the building. It turned out to be a false threat.

"It may have been another attempt by organized crime to spread fear or to distract the police," El Heraldo's news editor David Pinon told Reuters.

A US Senate committee said yesterday it would hold two meetings on the violence along the border, days after the Obama administration warned travelers about the growing risks.

"We must assess border security programs and plans in place and we must review the readiness of federal, state and local law enforcement," said Senator Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The panel would examine how the two governments were addressing the situation and determine the potential for increased terrorist activity.

The committee said it may also look into whether there is merit to deploying National Guard to the border.


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