Mexico "deeply" worried about deadly border city

MEXICO CITY Wed Mar 4, 2009 4:25am GMT

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico is deeply worried about an explosion of drug gang killings on its border with Texas, but its army is stronger than the cartels, Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora told Reuters on Tuesday.

The deployment this week of some 5,000 extra troops to Ciudad Juarez would bring it back under control and that nationwide, drug violence was near its peak, Medina Mora said.

"Ciudad Juarez worries us deeply," he told Reuters in an interview, as hundreds of troops set up checkpoints in that city to try to control clashes that have killed some 2,000 people there over the past year.

However, he played down fears that Mexico is losing its war against a sprawling network of traffickers armed with guns often imported from the United States and showing unprecedented power just inches from U.S. soil.

"We think the Mexican state has much a greater power than any criminal group or any combination of criminal groups," Medina Mora said.

Ciudad Juarez has become the bloodiest flashpoint in President Felipe Calderon's two-year-old drug war, with some of the country's most powerful cartels fighting for control of lucrative smuggling routes through the city.

Drug gangs showed their power last month by forcing the city's police chief to resign with a threat to keep killing police officers until he quit.

Texas Governor Rick Perry has suggested deploying 1,000 U.S. troops or border patrol guards on his state's southern border, but Medina Mora said Mexico was in control of the situation.

"We don't think, from the perspective of personal analysis and knowing the region and its issues, that it would be necessary," he said. "On the Mexican side, Mexico has a big enough deployment to deal with this problem."

Drug killings leaped to more than 6,000 across Mexico last year and Calderon is struggling to convince foreign investors that he can win his war against cartels who earn some $10 billion a year trafficking narcotics to U.S. consumers.

Medina Mora said he hoped the worst bloodshed was over. "We think, and I think, that the violence is relatively close to reaching its peak and in an acceptable time frame we could see a reduction in it," he said.

A meeting with U.S. Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last week encouraged him that Washington was open to considering bringing back a ban on assault weapons, which are smuggled down in droves to Mexican gangs.

Mexico is also using the first installments of a promised $1.4 billion in U.S. drug war aid to clean up its police and justice system and weed out the corruption that allows smuggling to flourish under the radar, Medina Mora said.

(Additional reporting by Anahi Rama)

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