Soldiers and police killed 12 suspected drug cartel gunmen in a shootout in the eastern Mexican state of Veracruz, state officials said.

The shootout occurred Tuesday in Palo Gacho, a community in the city of Emiliano Zapata, some 15 kilometers (93 miles) from Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz.

State police, army troops and marines found a training camp belonging to a criminal organization in Palo Gacho and were attacked by the gunmen.

The security forces returned fire, killing the 12 criminals, state officials said.

A security operation is being carried out in the area to "protect the civilian population in rural communities," the Veracruz state government said.

Veracruz has been plagued by a turf war between rival drug cartels that has sent the state's murder rate skyrocketing.

Residents of Veracruz city were stunned on Sept. 20 by the discovery of 35 bodies dumped on a busy thoroughfare.

A week later, 32 bodies were found at three drug-gang "safe houses" in the Veracruz-Boca del Rio metro area.

The Gulf, Los Zetas and Jalisco Nueva Generacion cartels, as well as breakaway members of the once-powerful La Familia Michoacana organization, are fueling the violence in the state.

Veracruz, Mexico's third-most populous state, is coveted as a key drug-trafficking corridor to the United States, officials say. EFE