Police and mayor abandon town

May 20, 2008 7:31:22 PM PDT
There are no police anymore in Villa Ahumada. Even the mayor has fled. Drug gangs have virtually seized this town of 1,500 not far from Texas, as Mexico's cartels grow increasingly audacious.

The Mexican military took over the police department this week because all 20 officers on the force have either been killed, run out of town or quit, officials said Tuesday.

Mayor Fidel Urrutia took refuge in the state capital of Chihuahua City - 600 miles away - where he's waiting for the soldiers to recover his town.

"Security will be in the hands of the army and the state (police) ministries, and it will remain like that indefinitely," Chihuahua state police spokesman Marco Antonio Moreno said.

Late Saturday, some 70 assailants barged into town and killed the police chief, two officers and three residents. At least eight people were kidnapped.

The killings came a month after soldiers arrested eight men, including a police officer, during the burial of an alleged drug hit man in Villa Ahumada, about 80 miles south of El Paso, Texas.

Cartels across Mexico have been launching brazen attacks, beheading police and killing soldiers in response to a military and federal police crackdown. Since taking office in 2006, President Felipe Calderon has sent more than 25,000 troops to drug hotspots.

Shootouts occur almost daily, especially along the U.S. border and in other states where the cartels have a strong presence.

On Tuesday in Durango state, two rival groups opened fire at each other with pistols and assault rifles on a highway, killing eight people, state prosecutor's spokesman Ruben Lopez said.

A separate battle nearby left two dead, Lopez said, one from gunfire and another who was run over as cars fled the scene.