Police found the remains of 14 people Tuesday stuffed into an abandoned SUV on a highway in the Mexican Gulf state of Veracruz, state officials said.

The grisly discovery was made on the Alamo-Potrero del Llano state highway near Los Cuates, a ranch in northern Veracruz close to the border with Tamaulipas state, the state government said in a statement.

The statement refers to "remains" and not bodies, indicating that the victims may have been dismembered.

Initial reports said the remains of at least six people had been found in the vehicle.

Officials have not said whether any messages had been left with the bodies, a common practice used by drug cartels to intimidate rivals.

The federal government launched "Operation Safe Veracruz" last October in an effort to stem the wave of drug-related violence in the Gulf state.

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.

President Felipe Calderon declared war on Mexico's drug cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006, deploying tens of thousands of soldiers and Federal Police officers across the country to combat drug cartels and other criminal organizations.

The government has managed to capture or kill 22 of Mexico's 37 most-wanted criminals, but it has been unable to stop the violence.

The death toll in Mexico's drug war stands at more than 50,000 since 2006. EFE