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Colom: Central American Nations to Join Forces Against Zetas

GUATEMALA / 28 JAN 2011 BY ELYSSA PACHICO AND JEREMY MCDERMOTT EN

Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador will create a special task force charged with confronting the Zetas, said President Alvaro Colom, as the Guatemalan security forces captured 20 people allegedly working with the Mexican cartel.

In an interview with Mexican newspaper El Universal, Colom described his proposed strategy, which he called the "Mesoamerican Plan for Security and Justice," focusing on combining forces from the three Northern Triangle nations, and receiving logistical support from Mexico, the United States and possibly Colombia.

The idea of Colom is more than just cross border cooperation, but also mooting the possibility of Mexican troops operating on foreign territory and inter-agency cooperation that would go beyond intelligence sharing, and may involve the creation of what is essentially a multinational, transborder crime unit.

"With El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala we think there wouldn't be constitutional or legal problems in carrying out joint operations," he said. "In Mexico's case, there is a constitutional restriction keeping elements of their security forces from operating outside the country. There, the solution would be improving the coordination between the frontier commands, and if that coordination does happen, there won't be any need for (Mexican) troops to pass from one side to the other," he said.

Colom would presumably discuss further details of such an agreement with Honduran president Porfirio Lobo and Salvadorean president Mauricio Funes when Guatemala hosts the June 2011 summit of Central American heads of state. Mexico's Felipe Calderon and Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos are also set to attend that conference, El Universal reports.

Colom also told El Universal that he had spoken with the European Union about possibilities of increased anti-drug aid for Guatemala.

Even as the Guatemalan president was making his announcement, the Defense Minister, General Abraham Valenzuela, claimed to have captured 20 members of the Zetas, Mexican and Guatemalans in the state of Alta Verapaz.  It was here in December that Colom deployed 300 troops and declared a state of siege to fight growing Zeta presence and activity.

The Zetas, once the armed wing of the Gulf Cartel before they broke away and set up on their own, are believed to have entered Guatemala in 2008.  Under pressure in Mexico they crossed the frontier, looking not only to establish a smuggling corridor up into Mexico and towards the U.S., but to wrestle control from the local smuggling families active along the frontier like the Leones and the Mendozas.

Colom extended the state of siege to February, amid pleas from Alta Verapaz's governor to broaden the reinforcements to include neighboring states in Guatemala.

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