- Barack Obama - drugs - Mexico - police - USA
AFP - Drug-related violence raged in northern Mexico on Tuesday with nine people killed, including five youths and a police chief, as a string of American leaders prepared to visit the country.
Drug violence claimed some 5,300 lives in Mexico last year and more than 1,000 so far this year, raising concerns it might spill across the border into the US.
That fear was enough to prompt US President Barack Obama to unveil a new strategy to boost border surveillance and better coordinate with Mexico's war on drug cartels.
Beside the sheer volume of murders -- including high profile killings of police chiefs and journalists -- the violence in Mexico has also captivated US public attention for its gruesome details.
Five human heads were found in coolers in the central state of Jalisco only a fortnight ago.
During a press conference on Tuesday Obama said Mexican President Felipe Calderon had "been very courageous in taking on these drug cartels," adding that the United States also needed to do more to stem the flow of guns and cash back to the drug cartels in Mexico.
"That's part of what is financing their operations," Obama added.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to Mexico Wednesday to spearhead Obama's drive against drug violence.
Her two-day trip paves the way for a flurry of visits by US officials culminating in April with one by Obama, who analysts say is breaking with predecessor George W. Bush's drug-fighting approach by focusing on blunting US consumer demand.
In 2006, Calderon beefed up local police forces with some 36,000 troops, especially in northern Mexico where most of the violence occurs as drug cartels vie for lucrative smuggling routes into the United States, the world's biggest market for cocaine.
An additional 5,000 troops were sent earlier this month to the border state of Chihuahua, ground zero in the drug war.
The state's principle city, Ciudad Juarez, has taken the brunt of the violence with nearly half of all drug-related killings last year.
The bloodshed continued unabated Tuesday with four people killed in the city -- which lies across the border from El Paso, Texas.
In a separate incident, four students and a musician, all aged 18-22, were killed late Tuesday while driving in a pickup truck in El Oro, in Durango state bordering Chihuahua.
The brashness of drug traffickers took a new twist earlier this month when Joaquin Guzman, the reputed head of the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel, made US Forbes magazine's list of the world's richest people, taking 701st place with a reputed billion dollar fortune.
The listing prompted complaints by Calderon who said it was justifying crime.
Despite Obama's assurances late Tuesday to US border communities that "you are not seeing a spillover of violence," earlier this month Arizona state Senator Jonathan Paton had a different story.
"The violence in terms of kidnapping, home invasions, and assassinations here has increased. We see the violence flowing from Mexico into the US and we're seeing we have to take different steps," he told AFP.