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Mexico will consider "zero-tolerance" laws against gang members

Associated Press Writer

MEXICO CITY- Mexico wants to get tougher on gang members and would consider a national "zero tolerance" crackdown similar to ones that prompted the arrests of thousands of teens across Central America, a top federal official said Monday.

Struggling to cope with a wave of killings and violent crime brought by members of powerful and well-organized street gangs, southernmost Chiapas state has already adopted stricter laws that could be applied nationally, said Miguel Hakim, the Foreign Relation Department's deputy secretary for Latin America.

"Examining the state of Chiapas, which has effectively applied standards similar to those in Central America, this, without a doubt, is a step in the right direction," Hakim said. "This is what we'd have to implement, not only in border states, but in federal legislation."

In Honduras, being in a gang is illegal and gang members are allowed to be imprisoned for minor offenses. Neighboring El Salvador has adopted similar get-tough measures.

Chiapas, which borders Guatemala, and northern Mexico have seen a spike in gang-related crime recently, in part because Central American gang members have fled Honduras and El Salvador to escape prison.

Coping with gang violence is expected to take center stage as President Vicente Fox travels to the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa this week to discuss security, cooperation and trade with his counterparts from Central America and Colombia.

Briefing reporters ahead of Fox's trip, which begins Tuesday and includes a brief stop in Belize, Hakim said "without a doubt, one of the ideas is to elevate the standards with the objective of reducing" gang activity and the violence it brings.

He said working to ensure the speedy deportation of suspected gang members to their home countries in Central America was a top priority.

The region's gang problem began some two decades ago, when the United States began deporting gang members who committed crimes. Many were Salvadorans who had fled that country's civil war, forming or joining neighborhood gangs in Los Angeles.

With their deportation, the gang members quickly spread to neighboring Honduras and Guatemala.

Members have become increasingly violent, carrying out beheadings in Central America and hacking their enemies with machetes in cities along the U.S. East Coast.

With growing violence in and around Washington, the FBI is launching a national campaign to get better intelligence and centralize U.S. gang investigations at its headquarters.

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