Mexican cartel says no violence during papal visit

Published March 18, 2012

| Associated Press

Banners purportedly signed by one of Mexico's drug cartels and hung in Guanajuato promise there will be no violence during next weekend's visit to the state by Pope Benedict XVI, an official said Sunday.

At least 11 banners signed by The Knights Templar gang were found in five municipalities, including the city of Leon, where the pope begins his trip Friday, an official at the state Attorney General's Office said. The official agreed to discuss the events on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to disclose the information.

He said the banners were found Saturday hanging from pedestrian bridges and carried messages about "a sort of truce for peace and said they are going to keep the peace during the pope's visit."

The official did not reveal the exact wording of the messages, but the newspaper Reforma's Sunday edition said one banner read: "The Knights Templar disavow any military action, we are not murders, welcome to the Pope."

The Knights Templar gives itself a pseudo-religious persona, proclaiming in banners that it is the defender of the region's people. It was created in neighboring Michoacan state after a split with the since-weakened La Familia cartel.

In February, The Knights Templar put out banners warning rival gangs to stay away and not create trouble during the pope's stay.

Benedict is scheduled to visit Guanajuato from Friday until Monday, when he will fly to Cuba. Mexican President Felipe Calderon plans to greet the pope at Leon's airport.

Earlier Sunday, Mexican authorities announced they had found 10 severed heads dumped outside a slaughterhouse in a town in northern Guerrero state. They said police were still searching for the bodies.

A statement from the Teloloapan police said the heads of seven men and three women were left with a message that appeared to threaten the La Familia cartel. The warning said: "This is going to happen to all those who support the FM."

La Familia is based in Michoacan state, which lies to the east of Guerrero. Both states have suffered in recent years from fighting among drug gangs. Authorities say La Familia has been severely battered in the fighting.

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