Page last updated at 09:13 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 10:13 UK

US drug aid to Mexico faces delay

Soldier in Morelia, Michoacan
Some 45,000 troops have been deployed to fight Mexico's drug gangs

A key US senator has delayed the release of a report needed to free some $100m (£59m) to help Mexico battle drug gangs, citing human rights concerns.

This aid is part of a much larger US package to help the Mexican police and army tackle the cartels that supply much of the illegal drugs in the US.

But Senator Patrick Leahy said it was not clear that Mexico's security forces were accountable to the rule of law.

The drugs war is set to be raised at a Mexico-US-Canada meeting on Sunday.

President Felipe Calderon will host US President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for talks in the western city of Guadalajara that are also set to cover economic issues, swine flu and climate change.

The US state department hoped to submit a favourable report on Mexico ahead of Mr Obama's visit to Mexico, the Washington Post reports.

But Sen Leahy, who chairs a Senate subcommittee that oversees foreign aid, said it would be "premature" to conclude that Mexico had met the requirements to earn the US funding.

Rule of law

Under a three-year programme that began in 2007 - the Merida Initiative - the US is providing some $1.4bn to help Mexico's counter-narcotics efforts.

But Sen Leahy pointed out that 15% of funds each year must be withheld until the secretary of state can report to Congress that the Mexican government is meeting four requirements, including prosecuting military and police officers who violate human rights.

"All Americans are sympathetic to the challenges faced by the Mexican government and all of us want them to be successful," Sen Leahy said in a statement.

"The Congress provides 85% of the aid without conditions, but there needs to be evidence that the military is accountable to the rule of law. Those requirements have not been met, so it is premature to send the report to Congress.

"I continue to support the goals of the Merida Initiative, but the military strategy alone is not a solution in the long term nor is it yet clear what it can achieve in the short term. Mexico needs effective police forces and a justice system that works.

"And as long as the demand for drugs in the United States and the flow of guns to Mexico continue at these levels, it will be difficult to neutralise the cartels."

Since late 2006, some 45,000 soldiers have been deployed to take on the drug gangs.

Bitter turf battles between the cartels and fights between the gangs and security forces have left more than 10,000 dead.

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