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Mayor shot dead in Mexico drug war flashpoint as governor vows to "punish those responsible"

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Gunmen on Thursday killed the mayor of a town in Mexico's western state of Michoacan shaken by a deadly turf war between rival drug cartels, authorities said. Elsewhere in the avocado-producing region, clashes between suspected gang members left several people dead, according to prosecutors.

Aguililla Mayor Cesar Valencia was shot dead by unknown attackers while traveling in a city hall vehicle near a soccer field in the town, military personnel who were dispatched to the scene told AFP. He suffered at least two gunshot wounds to the chest and neck, according to the military.

Mayor of troubled Mexican town shot dead weeks after army's arrival
Cesar Arturo Valencia Caballero, mayor of Aguililla, takes part in an event in Morelia, Mexico, February 5, 2022.  ALAN ORTEGA/REUTERS

"We strongly condemn the murder," tweeted Alfredo Ramirez Bedolla, governor of Michoacan, where cartels are at war for control of drug smuggling routes.

"I have issued instructions to thoroughly investigate the events... and to punish those responsible," he added.

Mexican mayors and other local-level politicians frequently fall victim to violence connected to corruption and the multibillion-dollar narcotics trade.

Aguililla is the birthplace of Nemesio "El Mencho" Oseguera, head of the powerful Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The Department of Justice considers the Jalisco cartel "one of the five most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world." 

Oseguera, 55, is one of the United States' most-wanted fugitives, with a $10 million bounty on his head.

"He is the number one priority for DEA and frankly for federal law enforcement in the United States," said Matthew Donahue, the DEA's top agent in Mexico, told CBS News. "He has got an enormous amount of weapons, RPGs, 50 caliber weapons. He basically has his own SWAT teams."

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His hometown of around 14,000 inhabitants is one of the hardest hit by Mexican criminal violence, although the deployment of the military there in February brought some calm.

Before that Aguililla had lived under a state of near siege due to blockades by cartels, which also left behind makeshift landmines.

Michoacan is the world's biggest avocado-producing region and threats against a U.S. inspector working there last month prompted the United States to suspend Mexican exports of the fruit for about a week.

Organized crime groups fight for a slice of the region's agricultural riches through robbery, kidnapping and extortion.

Five people were killed on Thursday in clashes between two armed groups in Michoacan, one of which seized a mayor's office in the village of Nuevo Parangaricutiro, prosecutors said.

Security forces later regained control of the building, detained 32 suspects and seized around 40 weapons, including assault rifles, a machine gun and explosives, the Michoacan state prosecutor's office said.

Mexico has recorded more than 340,000 murders since launching a controversial anti-drug military operation in 2006, most of them blamed on fighting between criminals, according to official figures.

Elsewhere, gunmen killed nine people in an attack linked to drugs on a house in central Mexico. The "execution" of six men and three women on Tuesday night shook a middle-class area of the usually peaceful town of Atlixco, said Puebla state governor Miguel Barbosa.

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