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Clinton pledges broader US effort on Mexico drugs gangs

24 March 10 00:36 GMT

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pledged increased support for Mexico in the fight against drug gangs.

In Mexico as part of a high-level US delegation, she said more would be done to cut US demand for drugs and the flow of profits and guns into Mexico.

The gangs "are fighting against both of our governments", she said, adding that a broader effort would aim to tackle social problems fuelling the trade.

Ten days ago, three people connected to the US consulate were killed in Mexico.

Discussions during the one-day visit are focusing on the Merida initiative, a $1.6bn US programme of aid aimed at fighting drug cartels.

Mrs Clinton said: "This new agenda expands our focus beyond disrupting drug trafficking organisations" to include "strengthening institutions, creating a 21st Century border, and building strong, resilient communities".

She added: "The recent downturn in economic growth and remittances has aided the drug traffickers in their recruitment of young people."

'Real deal'

Defence Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano are part of the US delegation.

"You rarely see this kind of meeting with this kind of array of cabinet officials on both sides, so I think it indicates this is the real deal," Ms Napolitano said.

Mrs Clinton was due to meet Mexican President Felipe Calderon at the end of her visit.

The trip comes a year after President Barack Obama promised to be a "full partner" with Mexico in fighting drugs.

A poll in Mexican newspaper Milenio on Tuesday found 59% of respondents thought the cartels were winning the drugs war, compared with just 21% who believed the government was.

On the eve of the talks, Mr Obama spoke to Mr Calderon to discuss their "mutual desire to work together for the benefit of the safety and security of citizens on both sides of our shared border", a US statement said.

Lesley Enriquez - a US citizen working at the Juarez consulate - her American husband, Arthur Redelfs, and Jorge Alberto Salcido, the Mexican husband of another consular employee, were shot dead in two separate incidents on 13 March in the border city of Ciudad Juarez.

The motives for the killings remain unclear.

Last week, US police across the border in El Paso, Texas, rounded up members of the Barrio Azteca gang suspected of carrying out the killings.

Drug-related violence has left some 18,000 people dead in Mexico since 2006.

Most of the funds in the Merida Initiative, which is due to expire in 2011, are allocated to Mexico, with the rest going to other countries in Central America.

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