Fifteen suspected cartel gunmen were killed and 14 others were arrested in different operations by federal security forces and state police in the north-central Mexican state of Zacatecas, where another eight badly decomposed bodies were found in a van, officials said.

In one of the operations, six reputed organized criminals, including a most-wanted suspect known as "Comandante Mara," were killed in clashes with marines in the town of Sain Alto, Zacatecas' government secretary told the media Friday.

Esau Hernandez said in a television interview that 14 other suspected criminals were arrested in another operation led by the federal police in the municipality of Rio Grande, where officers also seized communications gear, assault rifles, ammunition and some vehicles.

Another nine alleged organized criminals were killed in other operations involving federal forces and state police in that state, according to official reports.

Separately, spokespersons with the state's Attorney General's Office and Public Safety Secretariat told Efe that eight bodies were found inside a van in the town of Fresnillo, a few kilometers from an army checkpoint.

They said the bodies were badly decomposed and that preliminary reports indicated the victims bore signs of torture.

Earlier this week in north-central Mexico, a van containing 14 bodies was found on the outskirts of the city of San Luis Potosi, capital of the like-named state.

Investigators gathered information indicating that the killers made a stop in the state of Zacatecas and the victims - discovered Thursday - were executed on the drive to San Luis Potosi.

The deaths come amid a turf war in that region pitting different organized crime gangs.

More than 50,000 people, according to official figures, have died in drug-related violence since late 2006, when newly inaugurated President Felipe Calderon militarized the struggle against the nation's heavily armed, well-funded cartels.

The Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, which was founded by human rights activist and poet Javier Sicilia, puts the death toll at 70,000. EFE