Six gunmen were killed in a battle with Mexican marines in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, a major smuggling corridor for drugs headed to the US, the navy secretary office has said.
The incident took place around midday Thursday in Cerralvo town, 82 km from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon's capital, when a marine ground patrol shadowed by army helicopters ordered a convoy of SUVs to halt. Instead of stopping, the occupants of the vehicles opened fire and six of them died in the ensuing battle, the office said in a statement on Friday.
"The final result is six hired gunmen dead and the seizure of an equal number of the suspects's SUVs, as well as 15 long guns, 10 handguns of various calibre and two grenades," it said.
Cerralvo mayor Jose Esteban Quintanilla said the area has witnessed several shootouts between gunmen and the military in recent days.
Trafficking in the area around Cerralvo is currently controlled by Los Zetas, a band of Mexican special forces deserters turned killers for hire.
After several years as the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel, Los Zetas went into the drug business on their own account and are now engaged in a fierce turf battle with their erstwhile cartel partners.
Authorities say two other major drug mobs, the Sinaloa cartel and La Familia, are engaged in a conflict with Los Zetas that has caused a spike in violence in the region.
Battles among drug cartels and with the security forces have claimed nearly 19,000 lives in Mexico since December 2006, when current President Felipe Calderon took office.
Vowing to crush the cartels, Calderon has deployed 50,000 soldiers and 20,000 federal police to the country's most conflictive areas. But the pace of drug-related killings has only accelerated, from 2,700 people in 2007 to 7,724 fatalities last year.
The 2010 death toll has already topped 2,200, according to a tally by El Universal daily.