Mexico confirms link between drug traffickers and insurgent ex-Guatemalan soldiers

Mexico's chief organized crime investigator, Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, was quoted in Monday editions of El Universal and Mileno newspapers as saying that at least 30 of the so-called "kaibiles" have been hired by the Zetas, a group of ex-elite Mexican soldiers who now work for the Gulf drug cartel. The Zetas are former members of Mexico's elite Special Forces' Mobile Air Group who deserted their posts in the northern state of Tamaulipas, where they were assigned to combat the Gulf cartel. The group formed at the end of the 1990s.

The kaibiles are members of an elite Guatemalan paratrooper counterinsurgency unit known for its grueling jungle-survival training. The unit was created in the 1970s and named after an insurgent Mayan prince, Kaibil Balam. Still in existence, the group has been blamed for some homicides in Guatemala.

A spokesman for the Attorney General's office could not immediately confirm the newspaper reports, which come a month after Mexico's defense secretary said there seemed to be a connection between the kaibiles and the Zetas.

Vasconcelos said the chief function of the kaibiles is to train new hitmen for the Gulf cartel. The Zetas have begun turning to the kaibiles because they have lost a number of hired assassins in the past few years, Vasconcelos said. In 2001, about 50 ex-Mexican military men belonged to the Zetas, whereas now there are no more than 12 members, he said.

In September, Mexican Defense Secretary Gerardo Clemente Vega said there were indications the Zetas had invited the kaibiles to work with them. The Attorney General's office later reported that seven Guatemalans had been detained, but the Guatemalan government said only four of them had been trained as kaibiles. Seven drug organizations currently operate in Mexico, including the Gulf cartel, and are present in nearly every part of the country, the Attorney General's office has said. A.M.