Police Official and Guard Are Killed in Mexico

By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.

Published: June 27, 2008

MEXICO CITY — A gunman killed a high-ranking commander in the federal police and a bodyguard as they ate lunch at a busy restaurant here on Thursday, in what appeared to be the latest attack on law enforcement officials who are waging a campaign against drug traffickers, the authorities said.

Cmdr. Igor Labastida Calderón, who oversaw a division that monitors smuggling, had stopped for a bite with three bodyguards and an aide, a police spokesman, Eduardo Caño, said at a news conference.

At 12:50 p.m., a man walked in and opened fire on their table with a pistol. Commander Labastida died at the scene. One bodyguard was also killed, while the others and the aide were seriously wounded. The gunman sprinted out, jumped into a waiting sedan and escaped, Mr. Caño said.

No one had been arrested in the attack by the evening. The police commander often stopped at the small restaurant for lunch.

Commander Labastida was the fourth high-ranking federal police official to be killed since January. An additional seven federal agents have been killed in reprisals for antinarcotics operations, while a dozen more have fallen in gun battles with drug dealers.

Commander Labastida survived an assassination attempt in 2003, when he was the director of special affairs for the Federal Investigation Agency, or A.F.I. He was wounded in the thigh and shoulder.

The authorities said he had worked closely with Edgar Millán Gómez, the acting federal police commissioner who was killed May 8 as he arrived at his apartment in Mexico City. The police later blamed the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel in Sinaloa State for the killing.

Commander Labastida was one of several A.F.I. commanders that the secretary of public security, Genaro García Luna, brought with him 18 months ago, when he took over the newly blended intelligence agency and federal police force.

Since then, the federal police have waged a sustained campaign against traffickers, as President Felipe Calderón has sent thousands of troops and agents to take back towns controlled by drug dealers. The traffickers have fought back with assassinations and shootouts.

In all, about 4,000 people have died in violence between organized crime and the police since Mr. Calderón began his crackdown on drug traffickers. One in 10 have been police officers, soldiers and other law enforcement officials.

The United States is trying to help Mexico battle the cartels. Late Thursday, the Senate passed a bill, the “Merida Initiative,” to provide Mexico with $400 million this year for aircraft, equipment and training to fight the drug trade. President Bush is expected to sign the bill, which also gives Central American countries $65 million.

In recent weeks, drug dealers have mutilated and beheaded the bodies of some victims, leaving threatening messages with them. They have also waged a war of nerves with the police, placing banners and placards in public places warning them not to continue the offensive.

Mr. Calderón and his aides have said the wave of violence is evidence the government has been successful in breaking up drug cartels. They argue the assassinations are the desperate acts of drug kingpins who are losing power.

But others point out that the assassinations of Mr. Millán and other top law enforcement officials have been carried out with the help of corrupt officers inside the federal police, a sign that the struggle may just be starting.

For most of the last 30 years, drug cartels have operated with little interference from the Mexican government. The dealers employed corrupt officers not only on local police forces but also inside the federal highway police, who patrolled airports and ports as well.

Mr. Calderón’s offensive against the cartels, coupled with an ambitious effort to reform police departments across the country, has upset those arrangements, some criminologists say, with a deadly result.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/27/world/americas/27mexico.html?ref=americas

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