MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) – Mexican marines found 72 bodies at a remote ranch near the U.S. border, the navy said on Wednesday, the biggest single haul of bodies in an increasingly violent drug war.
Marines found the 58 men and 14 women on Tuesday at the ranch outside a town near the Gulf of Mexico in Tamaulipas state, some 90 miles from the Texas border, after a firefight with drug hitmen in which three gunmen and a marine died, a spokesman for the navy said.
"The bodies were dumped about the ranch and were not buried. We are still investigating how long they had been there," the spokesman said, who declined to give more details.
A man with a gunshot wound led the navy to the area after calling on marines for help at a checkpoint, and troops came under fire as they neared the ranch, the navy said in a statement. Marines seizedassault rifles, bullets, uniforms and vehicles including one with false army registration plates.
The number of dead is the largest single find in Mexico's 3-1/2 year assault on the cartels, and follows the discovery of 55 bodies in Guerrero state on the Pacific in May and 51 bodies on the outskirts of Monterrey near Texas in July.
Tamaulipas has become one of Mexico's bloodiest drug flashpoint's since the start of the year as rival hitmen from the Gulf cartel and its former armed wing, the Zetas, fight over smuggling routes into the United States. Hitmen killed a popular candidate for elections in the state in June, Mexico's worst political killing in 16 years.
President Felipe Calderon warned on Tuesday that more bloodshed will likely occur as his government continues its campaign to defeat violent drug cartels.
More than 28,000 people in Mexico have died in drug violence since Calderon launched his drug fight when he took office in late 2006, worrying investors and Washington.
Calderon blamed much of the recent violence on the split between the Zetas, named after a Mexican police code for high-ranking officers, and the Gulf gang. Authorities in Nuevo Leon state said the Zetas were responsible for abducting and killing a mayor near Monterrey last week.
"They have started a really tough battle in Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas in areas they previously shared ... the violence has been terrible," Calderon told local radio on Tuesday.
Armed with a huge arsenal of grenades, automatic weapons, dynamite and even rocket launchers, the Gulf gang and the Zetas are also engaged in a gruesome battle for supremacy with rival drug gangs from the Pacific state of Sinaloa.
(Editing by Jackie Frank)
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