At least 39 people were killed on Friday in western Mexico during a fight between presumed cartel members and government security forces, two government officials said — the latest bloodshed in an area plagued by violent drug gangs.
The officials said on condition of anonymity that 37 civilians had been killed in the clash near to Tanhuato in the state of Michoacán, near the border with Jalisco, a region home to Mexico's second-biggest city, Guadalajara. One official said two federal police had been killed in the shootout, while the other said three had died. Mexican media reports, citing federal officials at the scene, said as many as 44 people were killed in the clash.
The site of the shootout is close to the community of La Barca, where authorities earlier found more than five dozen bodies in mass graves linked to the Jalisco New Generation cartel. The area also has been marked by killings of politicians.
Federal officials cited by local media said three people were arrested after Friday’s clash. Additionally, police confiscated 42 assault rifles and a rocket launcher.
While there was no immediate confirmation that the Jalisco cartel was involved in Friday's shooting, the gang has been involved in the deadliest attacks against law enforcement in recent memory in the last few months.
They have killed more than 20 police and soldiers since March, including an incident early this month in which seven died after the military launched an operation targeting the group.
Jalisco Gov. Aristóteles Sandoval said then that the violence was a reaction to the federal government's Operation Jalisco, "an operation to get to the bottom of and to be able to arrest all the leaders of this cartel, of this organization."
Friday’s killings will increase pressure on President Enrique Peña Nieto to deliver on the pledge to bring stability to Mexico, a promise he made upon taking office in December 2012.
More than 100,000 people have died in clashes between the drug gangs and security forces since the start of 2007.
Al Jazeera and wires