Guatemala City – Police killed two suspected members of Mexico's Los Zetas drug cartel and arrested a third near the ranch in northern Guatemala where nearly 30 people were massacred over the weekend, a National Civilian Police, or PNC, spokesman said.
"There are two suspected criminals dead and one more captured alive, as well as an officer wounded," a PNC spokesman in the northern province of Peten said.
The three men are suspected of belonging to the "Zeta 200" cell of Los Zetas, considered Mexico's most violent drug cartel, police said.
The gunfight with police and the arrest occurred in Santa Elena, a city near the Los Cocos ranch, where Zetas gunmen massacred 27 farmworkers, of whom 26 were beheaded, on Sunday.
Investigators have identified 15 of the 27 victims, of whom three were ages 17, 15 and 13.
Armed men riding a motorcycle threw three grenades Monday morning at PNC officers and army troops in Santa Elena, wounding a police officer.
Army troops and police are monitoring eight border crossings in an effort to prevent the Zetas gunmen from leaving Guatemala, President Alvaro Colom said in a press conference a few kilometers from where the shootout occurred.
The president called the massacre an act of "barbarism" and vowed that those responsible would be captured.
About 30 to 40 heavily armed men arrived in Los Cocos looking for the ranch's owner, Otto Salguero, and attacked the farmworkers when they learned he was not there, police said.
Salguero will be investigated to determine whether he has ties to drug traffickers and to find the motive for the massacre, officials said.
Three of Salguero's relatives were murdered on Friday and the ranch owner has disappeared, officials said.
Twenty-four of the victims were from Los Amates, a city in the Caribbean province of Izabal, and the other three were from Peten.
Los Cocos is located outside the city of La Libertad, about 630 kilometers (391 miles) north of Guatemala City.
Peten, a province covered by dense jungles, is used by international drug traffickers to smuggle narcotics from South America into Mexico.
Dozens of soldiers were sent to the border with Mexico, located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Los Cocos, army spokesman Col. Rony Urizar told Efe.
Los Zetas has been blamed for several massacres in Mexico, including the killings last August of 72 migrants, the majority of them from Latin America, at a ranch outside San Fernando, a city in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.
The cartel is also suspected of being behind the killings of 183 people whose remains were found in 40 mass graves in Tamaulipas in the past few weeks.
Los Zetas has been battling rivals in several states for control of smuggling routes into the United States.
Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, known as "El Lazca," deserted from the Mexican army in 1999 and formed Los Zetas with three other soldiers, all members of an elite special operations unit, becoming the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel.
After about a decade on the payroll of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
Los Zetas, in addition to trafficking drugs, is also involved in kidnappings, armed robberies and extortion rackets.