Mexico sending troops to violent northern area

Mexico's government is sending hundreds of soldiers and federal police to a northern region where drug cartel violence has been on the rise and a prominent businessman was recently killed, authorities announced Friday.

The forces are going to the Comarca Lagunera region area that straddles Coahuila and Durango states, the Interior Department said.

The announcement came three days after Interior Secretary Francisco Blake met with the governors of the two states. He discussed the possibility of sending federal forces to the region but also urged the governors to step up efforts to root out corruption in state and municipal police forces.

The troops and federal police are being deployed because of "weak local governments and a rise in crime including kidnapping, extortion and homicide," the statement said.

Amid relentless cartel violence, President Felipe Calderon's government has increasingly criticized state governments for failing to clean up own police forces. State government officials routinely insist organized crime is a federal offense and say state and municipal police forces are ill-equipped to confront the cartels' heavily armed gunmen.

The statement did not say how many soldiers and police are being deployed, but an Interior Department official said it will be hundreds. The official insisted on speaking anonymously because he revealed the information before the official announcement was made.

Local businessmen demanded stepped up security in the region after a prominent rancher with ties to the Lala dairy company was killed.

The region is a stronghold of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, which is fighting the Zetas cartel there.

Farther south in Durango state's capital, also called Durango, authorities have discovered at least 146 bodies in mass graves in a monthlong search. The latest 25 bodies — 23 men and two women — were unearthed Thursday.

Calderon has deployed more than 45,000 federal troops and police to drug trafficking hotspots across Mexico since taking office in December 2006.

Although an unprecedented number of cartel bosses have been captured or killed, violence has soared, claiming more than 34,600 lives the last four years.

The deployment of thousands of federal personnel — first troops, then police — failed to curb violence in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, where more than 3,000 people were slain last year.

The government said it stepped up security in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas after 72 Central American and South American migrants were slaughtered there last August, apparently by Zetas gunmen who tried to recruit them.

Despite the claim of increased security, the same cartel was accused of an even larger slaughter this year: 183 bodies were pulled from clandestine graves last month in the same area where the migrants were massacred. Many of the victims had apparently been pulled off passenger buses by Zetas gunmen trying to recruit them.

The government, however, says federal forces have also rescued dozens of kidnapped migrants in Tamaulipas in recent weeks.

On Friday, the federal Attorney General's Office announced the arrest of four municipal police for allegedly participating in the kidnapping of 68 migrants who were rescued by federal police last month from a house in Reynosa, a city across the border from McAllen, Texas.