Several dead after Mexican army, drug gang gunfight

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MEXICO CITY, Oct 5 (Reuters) Several people were killed in a gunbattle between soldiers and suspected drug smugglers in northern Mexico today, a government official said, and national media reported a massive seizure of cocaine.

The shootout happened during an anti-drugs operation in the port city of Tampico in Tamaulipas state, territory of the Gulf Cartel, one of the two most powerful Mexican drug gangs.

''We're talking about several deaths,'' said the official, who asked not to be named and did not provide further details, including whether any cocaine was seized.

Mexican newspapers reported on their Web sites that up to 15 people were killed in the fighting, which began when traffickers shot at soldiers conducting anti-drug operations.

Radio and online reports said the army seized up to 20 tonnes of cocaine after the battle.

More than 2,000 people have been killed this year in violence involving rival drug gangs and the government.

President Felipe Calderon, visiting Tamaulipas today, spoke of his clampdown on violent and wealthy gangs who smuggle huge amounts of cocaine, amphetamines and marijuana to the United States.

Calderon has deployed thousands of troops across Mexico to attack the dominant Gulf and Sinaloa cartels since taking office in December.

Among the offensive's recent successes, police last week arrested Sandra Avila, reputedly a top trafficker nicknamed the ''Queen of the Pacific.'' Last month a private jet with nearly 4 tonnes of cocaine aboard crashed into a southern Mexican jungle. Some reports say the army forced the plane to crash-land.

REUTERS SBA AS0317

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