At least 14,000 "armed criminals" are in the northern Mexican cities of Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua, working for the drug cartels that are fighting for control of smuggling routes into the United States, Chihuahua state Attorney General Carlos Manuel Salas said.

"It was an inherited war, which we got from the prior administration, in which 9,000 armed criminals are fighting for Juárez and a number near 5,000 for the city of Chihuahua," the state capital, Salas said.

About 5,500 of the armed criminals operating in Ciudad Juárez, located across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, belong to Los Aztecas, a gang that works as the armed wing of the Juárez cartel, while the rest work for the Sinaloa cartel, Salas said.

Some 3,000 of these criminals are minors who began to be recruited by drug traffickers in 2008 and "many of them" continue working for the cartels today, the AG said.

Authorities have detained 35 people caught in the act of committing serious crimes, such as kidnappings and extortion, as well as 350 other criminals arrested in the past eight months for a variety of offenses, Salas said.

Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who visited Ciudad Juárez to discuss security, said his country needed a network of 4 million civilians providing information to the government to end the drug-related violence that rocked the Andean nation in the 1980s and 1990s.

The violence has not subsided in Ciudad Juárez, considered Mexico's murder capital, despite the deployment of nearly 10,000 soldiers and Federal Police officers in the border city.

More than 3,100 people were murdered in Ciudad Juárez last year, making 2010 the worst year since the war between rival drug gangs sent the homicide rate skyrocketing in 2008.

Drug-related violence has claimed the lives of 900 people this year in the war for control of the border city being waged by the Juárez and Sinaloa cartels with backing from hitmen from local street gangs.

The federal government claims that the murder rate in Juárez has fallen 60 percent this year, but local activists contend that it has only dropped 24 percent.

The national peace caravan organized by poet and activist Javier Sicilia, whose grassroots movement is demanding an end to the militarization of the drug war and a greater focus on public safety, is scheduled to arrive in Ciudad Juárez on Friday.

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