Mexico: Drug violence has killed 22,700 since 2006

Relatives of a man who was shot to death by unknown gunmen grieve  near the crime scene in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

MEXICO CITY – More than 22,700 people have been killed in Mexico’s drug war since a U.S.-backed military crackdown on cartels began more than three years ago, according to a government report.

The report said 2009 was the deadliest year in the drug war, with 9,635 people killed in violence tied to organized crime. That compares to 2,837 in 2007, the first year of President Felipe Calderon’s military-led offensive.

Gang violence has continued surging this year, with 3,365 people killed between January and March, according to the confidential report sent to lawmakers Monday. The Associated Press had access to the report Tuesday.

In the latest violence, the bodies of six men were dumped on the side of a highway in Cuernavaca, a city near Mexico’s capital where authorities say a battle has erupted for leadership of the Beltran Leyva cartel, whose leader was killed in a shootout with marines in December. Police said the six men were tortured, then each shot once in the head.

In northern state of Tamaulipas, which borders Texas, gunmen burst into a bar and killed eight people Monday night, the state government said. Five died inside the bar in the town of Los Guerra and three were chased down and killed as they tried to flee in car. Tamaulipas has become the newest front in Mexico’s drug war amid a split between the Gulf cartel and its former gang of hit men, the Zetas.

Calderon’s U.S.-backed deployment of more than 40,000 soldiers and federal police across the country has come under increasing criticism from opposition politicians and drug trade experts, who argue the crackdown has led to human rights abuses and done little to stem the flow of narcotics to the U.S.

The government attributes the increase in violence to gangs lashing back at security forces and infighting among cartels whose leadership has been shaken by the arrest of top kingpins. More than 121,000 drug suspects have been detained since 2006, the report said. It gave no figure for how many of those had been convicted.

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