Ten suspected drug cartel gunmen and four police were killed during a daytime shootout on Saturday in a Mexican town near the border with the United States, days after US President Donald Trump raised bilateral tensions by saying he would designate the gangs as terrorists.
The government of the northern state of Coahuila said state police clashed with a group of heavily armed gunmen in pickup trucks in the small town of Villa Union, about 65 kilometres (40 miles) southwest of the border city of Piedras Negras.
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Standing outside the Villa Union mayor’s bullet-ridden offices, Coahuila governor Miguel Angel Riquelme told reporters the state had acted “decisively” to tackle the gunmen, who he said had entered from the neighbouring state of Tamaulipas.
Riquelme said 10 gunmen had been killed, three of them by officers in pursuit of the gang members after the gunfight that claimed the lives of four police and wounded six more.
10 civiles armados y 4 policías muertos por enfrentamientos en Coahuila, confirma el Gobernador Miguel Riquelme; hasta el momento no se tienen detenidos en esta jornada violenta. https://t.co/NPyziSLLhD pic.twitter.com/gDB85Jaj6N
— Sin Embargo MX (@SinEmbargoMX) December 1, 2019
Around midday, heavy gunfire began ringing out in Villa Union, and a convoy of armed pickup trucks could be seen moving around the town, according to video clips posted by social media users. Others showed plumes of smoke rising from the town.
Reuters could not vouch for their authenticity.
An unspecified number of people were also missing, including some who were at the mayor’s office, the governor said.
Riquelme said authorities had identified 14 vehicles involved in the attacks and seized more than a dozen guns.
The outbreak of violence occurred during a testing week for President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who on Friday said he would not accept any foreign intervention in Mexico to deal with violent criminal gangs after Trump’s comments.
‘Collaboration and cooperation’
Lopez Obrador said Mexico would handle the problem, a view echoed by Riquelme as he spoke to reporters.
“I don’t think that Mexico needs intervention. I think Mexico needs collaboration and cooperation,” said Riquelme, whose party is in opposition to Lopez Obrador. “We’re convinced that the state has the power to overcome the criminals.”
In an interview aired on Tuesday, Trump said he planned to designate the cartels as terrorist organisations, sparking concerns the move could serve as a prelude to the US trying to intervene unilaterally in Mexico.
US Attorney General William Barr is due to visit Mexico next week to discuss cooperation over security.
Lopez Obrador took office a year ago pledging to bring peace after more than a decade of gang-fuelled violence.
A series of recent security lapses has raised questions about the left-leaning administration’s strategy.
Criticism has focused on the November 4 massacre of nine women and children of US-Mexican origin from Mormon communities in northern Mexico, and the armed forces’ release of a captured son of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman under pressure from cartel gunmen in the city of Culiacan.
Coahuila has a history of gang violence, although the number of killings is well below the level seven years ago. Nationally, the homicide rate reached a record in the first six months of the year.