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MEXICO UNDER SIEGE

14 killed in army raid in Mexico's Veracruz state

The shooting, in which 12 suspects and two soldiers were killed, spanned at least two neighborhoods in the normally quiet Veracruz state capital of Xalapa, Mexico news reports say.

January 14, 2011|By Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Mexico City — Mexican soldiers clashed with gunmen for hours in the capital of the coastal state of Veracruz, leaving at least 12 suspects and two soldiers dead, authorities said Friday.

The shooting ended early Friday and spanned at least two neighborhoods in the normally quiet city of Xalapa, Mexican news reports said.

Mexican army officials said gunmen opened fire when infantry soldiers arrived at a home about 6 p.m. Thursday. The military did not immediately specify the purpose of the raid. The army said troops recovered five rifles, three handguns, grenades and protective vests.

Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte described the action as part of a wider crackdown by federal and state authorities against organized crime groups across the state.

"In Veracruz, nobody is above the law," he said.

Veracruz, which sits on the Gulf of Mexico and boasts Mexico's principal seaport, has become a key base of operations for the feared Zetas drug-trafficking gang, which once served as the armed wing of the Gulf cartel. The Zetas have broken from the Gulf organization and broadened into an assortment of criminal activities, including migrant-trafficking, extortion and kidnapping.

As a result, Veracruz is a hot spot of violent crime and corruption. In 2009, the seaport's customs chief, Francisco Serrano, disappeared and was believed seized by gunmen in the port city, also named Veracruz. Several police officers, including the man who headed the municipal police at the port, were arrested. Serrano has not been found.

At least 450 people have died in drug-related violence in Veracruz since late 2006, when Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a military-led assault on organized-crime groups, according to figures compiled by Mexico's government.

But Xalapa, tucked in the scenic, coffee-rich highlands of the state's interior, has seen relatively little violence, registering 14 drug slayings in four years, according to the government's tally.

ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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