More than 220 women have been murdered this year in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, where 370 were killed in 2010, state Attorney General Carlos Manuel Salas said.

Chihuahua, one of Mexico's most violent states, has registered a total of 2,600 homicides since January, Salas told state legislators.

Of the total number of homicides, 222, or 8.5 percent, involved women, the state AG said.

"Whether it's murder, gender violence or femicides, the thing that is certain is that 222 women have been murdered in Chihuahua and the struggle to protect the rights of women has been slow and painful," Salas said.

"We are talking about Chihuahua having a total of 5,898 murders in 2010 and 2,600 currently in 2011, of which 222 are of women, an extremely high figure," the state AG said.

Salas appeared on Tuesday before a special committee of the lower house of the state legislature that is investigating the killings of women in Chihuahua.

The rise in murders "may be due to the increased participation of women in organized criminal activities, but this point should not be of importance," Salas said.

Women's killings mainly occur in Ciudad Juarez, located across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, and in the suburbs of Chihuahua city, the state capital.

The border city first gained notoriety in the early 1990s, when young women began to disappear in the area.

More than 500 women have been killed in Ciudad Juarez since 1993, according to the National Human Rights Commission, with the majority of the cases going unsolved.

In most of the slayings, the victims were young women from poor families who moved to the border city from all over Mexico to work in the many assembly plants, known as "maquiladoras," built there to take advantage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Investigators have not determined who is behind the killings, although there has been speculation that serial killers, organized crime, people traffickers, drug smugglers and child pornographers, among others, may be involved.

The AG showed legislators a video on the progress made in the Campo Algodonero case involving the killings of Esmeralda Herrera Monreal, Laura Berenice Ramos Monarrez and Claudia Ivette Gonzalez from September to October 2001 in Ciudad Juarez.

The Chihuahua state government is working to identify those responsible for the murders, Salas said.

"There are lines of investigation with solid and reliable evidence, but it would not be appropriate to reveal them at this time," Salas said, referring to the Herrera Monreal case.

Non-governmental organizations have reported that women's murders soared from 1,085 cases to 1,858 cases, or 71 percent, in Mexico during the 2007-2009 period, with 10 percent of the cases involving girls and teenagers, state legislator Teresa Inchaustegui, of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, said.

About 10 percent of the women's killings involve victims ranging from babies to 5-year-olds, the lawmaker said.

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