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6 prison workers killed in Mexico

MEXICO CITY—Six employees of a maximum-security prison in the border city of Matamoros were found shot to death Thursday, the latest violence as the government struggles to control Mexico's penal system.

The bullet-riddled bodies were found around noon, but there were conflicting reports about whether some were found in the prison or outside, said Hector Fernando Vallejo Garcia, the police chief in Tamaulipas state, where the prison is located.

The shootings came two days after Mexican officials transferred several high-profile convicts to the Matamoros facility from another troubled Mexican prison, La Palma, located just west of Mexico City. Soldiers and federal agents raided La Palma last week in an effort to regain control of the prison from drug traffickers.

Among the prisoners transferred to the Matamoros facility was Miguel Angel Caro Quintero, who's serving a 90-year sentence for the kidnapping and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena in 1985.

Mexican President Vicente Fox vowed to press ahead with efforts to clean up Mexico's prison system. "We're going to establish order in federal prisons, decisively and strong-handed to assure we win this battle, and we'll prove it month to month, day by day," he told a Mexican television station.

Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha said hundreds of soldiers and police agents had been sent to Matamoros to cordon off the prison. In a statement, Macedo's office identified the dead as a custodian and five "administrative workers."

The statement said gunmen loyal to Osiel Cardenas Guillen, the head of the so-called Gulf drug trafficking cartel, were behind the Matamoros killings, probably in retaliation for last week's raid on La Palma.

Cardenas was also linked to violence at La Palma.

The Matamoros facility is one of three maximum-security prisons in Mexico.

Federal officials have been trying to clamp down on the prisons, which they believe imprisoned drug bosses are using to run their gangs and wage war on their business rivals. Last week, the head of Mexico's prison system resigned only hours before the raid on La Palma.

The problems at La Palma prison, including three recent murders, have been linked to rivalries among Mexico's three largest drug cartels, but there was no information on what might have triggered the killings in Matamoros.

Television images showed soldiers closing off entrances to the Matamoros prison, much as they did at La Palma last week. Federal agents and soldiers are still occupying La Palma, and family members have been refused visits to the prison for the past week.

Authorities have said that Cardenas and another drug trafficker, Benjamin Arellano Felix, head of the so-called Tijuana cartel, have formed an alliance against a third drug band, the Juarez cartel, led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. Guzman's brother, Arturo, was murdered at La Palma on New Year's Eve. Guzman escaped from another maximum security prison on Jan. 19, 2001, and remains a fugitive.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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