Eight suspected gunmen were killed and one was arrested in shootouts with army troops and marines in the eastern Mexican port city of Veracruz and its surrounding area, a military commander said.

The shootouts started Sunday afternoon in the city of La Antigua and lasted until the early morning hours of Monday, ending with engagements in the communities of Santa Fe and Villarin.

Military personnel seized a number of weapons and vehicles following the shootouts, 6th Military Region commander Gen. Rene Carlos Aguilar Paez said.

A search was launched for a suspect who managed to get away with a large number of weapons, the general said.

The shootouts started when army troops went to investigate an anonymous tip about the presence of armed men in San Julian, a town near the Xalapa-Veracruz highway, some 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the port city.

Gunmen opened fire on the troops as they entered the town, setting off the long series of shootouts.

A navy helicopter provided support to the ground forces during the engagements, military spokesmen said.

"With these actions, it is clear that the members of the Mexican army continue the direct war against drug trafficking and organized crime, renewing their commitment to the people of Veracruz," the Defense Secretariat said in a statement.

The shootouts were just the latest in the past few days in Mexico, where nearly 40,000 people have died in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the country's drug cartels in December 2006.