Villahermosa – Eleven men suspected of working as hired guns for Los Zetas, considered Mexico's most violent drug cartel, were arrested over the weekend in the southeastern state of Tabasco, prosecutors said.
The suspects were detained Sunday in connection with the wave of drug-related violence in Cardenas, a city about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco.
The suspects - eight Mexicans and three Guatemalans - worked as enforcers for Los Zetas, which has kidnapped and murdered dozens of people in southern Mexico, Tabasco Attorney General Gregorio Romero said.
The drug cartel is also suspected of having murdered 27 farmworkers in the northern Guatemalan province of Peten on May 15.
Lazaro Vazquez Rodriguez, suspected of being a top Zetas boss in Tabasco, and Juan Alfredo Choc, a Zetas leader responsible for operations in Xalapa, the capital of the eastern state of Veracruz, were among those arrested, the Tabasco Attorney General's Office said.
Choc apparently arrived recently in Tabasco to expand the gang's criminal activities in the state, the AG's office said.
The Guatemalans arrested in the operation were identified as Edgar Raul Caal Max, Juan Alfredo Choc Yant and Jose Luis Solis Chajon.
Nine people were murdered last week in Cardenas, where violent crimes were not common, Tabasco Gov. Andres Granier said.
The killings were supposedly a settling of accounts between Los Zetas and the Gulf cartel.
Citizens should report criminals operating in the state anonymously to police, Granier said.
"Not one step back," Granier, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, said.
The state government plans to fight the criminals who are trying to take control of Tabasco, an important transit point for drugs being smuggled into Mexico from Central America, the governor said.
Police seized vehicles, about 20 firearms and grenades from the suspects, the AG's office said.
Drug gangs have killed 58 police officers in Tabasco since 2006, with eight officers slain so far this year.
Drug traffickers have also murdered prosecutors, businessmen and ranchers in the state.
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 several years on the payroll of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
A total of 15,270 people died in drug-related violence in Mexico last year, and nearly 40,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the country's cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006.
Calderon has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and Federal Police officers across the country to combat drug cartels and other criminal organizations.
The anti-drug operation, however, has failed to put a dent in the violence due, according to experts, to drug cartels' ability to buy off the police and even high-ranking officials.