One suspected criminal was killed and nine others, including six Guatemalans, were arrested following a shootout between the security forces and gunmen in Xalapa, the capital of Mexico's Veracruz state, security officials said.

The shootout started Saturday after police and marines went to a hotel where armed men had been spotted.

The gunmen opened fire on the security forces members, who returned fire and even used fragmentation grenades against the criminals.

The engagement spread to other parts of Xalapa, security officials said, adding that one of the suspects was killed and nine others surrendered at a safe house apparently belonging to the gang.

The suspects beloging to a cell of a criminal organization, the Navy Secretariat said.

Veracruz has been plagued by a turf war between rival drug cartels that has sent the state's murder rate skyrocketing over the past 18 months.

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

On June 12, police found the remains of 14 people stuffed into an abandoned SUV on the Alamo-Potrero del Llano state highway near Los Cuates, a ranch in northern Veracruz close to the border with Tamaulipas.

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