Two mass graves containing the bodies of 10 people apparently murdered by drug traffickers were found early Wednesday in the Gulf state of Veracruz, Mexican federal and state officials said.
The clandestine graves were found at two ranches outside the city of Acayucan, located about 540 kilometers (335 miles) southeast of Mexico City, the Navy Secretariat and the Veracruz state government said in a joint statement.
The Los Zetas drug cartel is suspected of being behind the killings.
Acayucan, located in southern Veracruz, is in a ranching area that has drawn the attention of state and federal officials in recent years because of drug trafficking.
Marines stopped a vehicle Tuesday morning when the driver tried to go around a checkpoint near Acayucan.
The suspect, identified as Juan Francisco Alvarado Martagon, told the marines he was in charge of a group of Los Zetas watchers and gunmen who killed and disposed of people.
Alvarado Martagon identified two sites where bodies had been buried and marines and civilian authorities went to the ranches, officials said.
Veracruz Attorney General’s Office personnel spent the night digging at the site and found 10 bodies in an advanced state of decomposition.
The digging continued on Wednesday, but no more bodies have been found.
The federal government launched “Operation Safe Veracruz” last October to clean up police departments, gather intelligence and fight drug-related violence in the Gulf state.
Veracruz has been plagued by a turf war between rival drug cartels that has sent the murder rate skyrocketing.
Residents of Veracruz city were stunned on Sept. 20 by the discovery of 35 bodies dumped on a busy thoroughfare.
A week later, 32 bodies were found at three drug-gang “safe houses” in the Veracruz-Boca del Rio metro area.
The Gulf, Los Zetas and relatively new Jalisco Nueva Generacion cartels, as well as breakaway members of the once-powerful La Familia Michoacana organization, are fueling the violence in Veracruz, which is Mexico’s third-most populous state and coveted as a key drug-trafficking corridor to the United States, officials say.
Mexico’s drug war death toll stood at 47,515 from December 2006 to Sept. 30.
The murder total has grown every year of President Felipe Calderon’s military offensive against the well-funded, heavily armed drug cartels.
Unofficial tallies published in December by independent daily La Jornada put the death toll from Mexico’s drug war at more than 50,000.