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Mexico shootout leaves at least 15 dead

JUAREZ, MEXICO - MARCH 24:  A member of the Mexican military police keeps guard over a car with Texas license plates bearing a bullet-ridden body on March 24, 2010 in Juarez, Mexico. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano all visited Mexico yesterday for discussions centered on Mexico's endemic drug-related violence. The border city of Juarez, Mexico has been racked by violent drug-related crime recently and has quickly become one of the most dangerous cities in the world in which to live. As drug cartels have been fighting over ever-lucrative drug corridors along the United States border, the murder rate in Juarez has risen to 173 slayings for every 100,000 residents. President Felipe Calderon's strategy of sending 7000 troops to Juarez has not mitigated the situation. With a population of 1.3 million, 2,600 people died in drug-related violence last year and 500 so far this year, including two Americans recently who worked for the U.S. Consulate and were killed as they returned from a child's party.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

At least 15 people died Wednesday in a huge shootout between police and two rival drug gangs in northern Mexico, authorities said.

The pre-dawn battle near the remote town of Las Varas started as a firefight between rival drug trafficking gangs, then escalated when police arrived, said Eduardo Esparza of the prosecutor’s office for the state of Chihuahua, which borders the United States.

The region is hotly disputed territory for Mexico’s drug cartels because its mountainous terrain and proximity to the border make it a strategic corridor for shipping narcotics to the US.

Investigators believe the groups involved in the shootout were “La Linea” — the armed wing of the Juarez cartel — and hitmen from the powerful Sinaloa cartel, Esparza told AFP.

Fifteen people died — all from the drug gangs — and five more were arrested, state police chief Oscar Aparicio told Radio Formula.

It was the latest in a series of deadly clashes between police, rival drug gangs and warring factions within the Sinaloa cartel, which has been in turmoil since its kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was extradited to the United States in January.

Last Friday, 17 gunmen were killed in a spectacular shootout with police on a highway in Sinaloa, the northwestern state that is the Guzman cartel’s home base.

May was the deadliest month in Mexico since the government began keeping track in 1997, with 2,186 homicides.

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