Ciudad Juarez, Chih - Mexico's army, facing accusations of rights abuses, will give federal police control of security in the country's most violent drug war city even as cartel killings escalate, police said on Friday.
Ciudad Juarez, Chih -Mexico is sending 2,000 elite police to try to quell the fresh surge in murders in Ciudad Juarez near the U.S. border, displacing the army that militarized the city early last year but whose presence has failed to curb violence.
"The general coordination of this operation will be via the federal police," Mexico's federal police chief, Facundo Rosas, told a news conference in Ciudad Juarez across from El Paso, Texas, as helicopters hovered overhead.
Some 2,500 federal police, who are armed with semi-automatic weapons and wear body armor and helmets, will now lead security operations in the manufacturing city as reinforcements arrive over the next few days.
The move signals a new strategy by President Felipe Calderon in the government's crackdown in Ciudad Juarez, the bloodiest front in Mexico's three-year drug war where 2,650 people died in drug violence last year.
Killings have jumped to up to 16 a day since the start of 2010. Residents blame the army for provoking the increase in daily shootings, beheadings and disappearances, which have grown steadily following a brief lull when the troops arrived.
Many local residents have held protests calling on the army to leave. Rights groups, including Amnesty International, say soldiers are rounding up innocent city residents in violent raids and beating confessions out of suspects.
The army denies any wrongdoing. Federal police are considered to be less heavy-handed and more adept at winning the confidence of locals, although some business leaders accuse them of running extortion rackets in the border city.
Calderon's military strategy has scored recent victories with the capture of a Tijuana drug gang leader on Tuesday and the killing of the head of the powerful Beltran Leyva cartel in western Mexico late last year.
But U.S. officials, investors and ordinary Mexicans are concerned that drug violence is overwhelming state security forces. There have been more than 17,000 drug murders since 2006 -- most from brutal turf wars between rival gangs -- and cartels are growing in power, terrorizing rural communities along smuggling routes.