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U.S. governors pledge to help Mexican counterparts fight wave of violence

Associated Press Writer

TORREON, Mexico- The governor of Texas, speaking at the opening of a two-day meeting of U.S and Mexican border governors, promised to help fight a wave of drug-fueled violence that has left scores of people dead along the Mexican border.

"One of the greatest challenges our nations face is cutting off the drug trade and ending the violence that it has brought to both sides of the border," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in a video message.

Perry said his state stands ready to help Mexico in the battle, noting Texas has already allocated an additional US$5 million (euro4 million) to support law enforcement along the border and has increased the number of state troopers in the area.

"Today, Texas stands ready to help in any way that we can to put an end to a recent rash of kidnappings and stop the drug-related violence that has claimed hundreds of lives and brought fear to families in both our nations," he said.

"The fact is that there can be no homeland security without border security."

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger attended the meeting, but did not address the gathering in his first official visit to Mexico. Still, he became the focus of attention, with Mexican reporters snapping his picture at every chance.

Speaking in Spanish, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said, "I want to thank my colleague, the Governor of California, for being here and representing the biggest border state."

Earlier this year, Schwarzenegger drew criticism from Mexican officials after he praised volunteer border patrols in Arizona.

Schwarzenegger returned to California late Thursday after attending the dinner.

Mexican President Vicente Fox, who addressed the gathering in a video message, spoke against U.S. civilian border patrols and said Mexico will stand against anyone acting outside the law.

"We will demand that the human rights of migrants be respected," he said.

In April, volunteers with the Minuteman project patrolled the Arizona-Mexico border, drawing international attention and criticism. Organizers have said they will begin patrolling the border in New Mexico and Texas in October.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, whose state has borne the brunt of illegal immigration in recent years, did not attend the meeting.

Law enforcement representatives from both sides of the border are also expected to present a plan that includes sharing information on gangs and establishing a joint radio communications system, said Tony Garcia, deputy commander at the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Garcia, who is member of a binational committee on border security, said the plan also includes installing emergency response equipment that can be accessed and used by both U.S. and Mexican police in the event of a terrorist attack, chemical spill or natural disaster.

"Public safety is a top priority for the border region because if you don't have it, tourism falls down, trade can go to the wayside," Garcia said.

Cities on both sides of the border rely on tourists who cross over to shop and visit relatives. But recent violence, especially in Nuevo Laredo, has diminished that cross-border trade.

The violence in Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas, has left more than 80 people dead since the beginning of the year. It also prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a travel advisory alerting citizens to recent drug-trafficking and kidnappings on the Mexican side of the border.

The plan also calls for better training for Mexican police, programs to prevent violence along the border, and the creation of a database containing the identities of members of criminal organizations, including the Zetas, a group of Mexican soldiers-turned-drug hit men believed to be controlling Nuevo Laredo.

Garcia said Chihuahua law enforcement officials also have begun work on a database of members of the Mara Salvatrucha and the MS-18, two of the most ruthless Central American gangs. Their members have spread to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The gangs got their start in Los Angeles in the 1980s, becoming popular among Salvadorans who fled to the United States to escape their country's civil war.

A decade later, they had spread to Central America - in large part because their members were deported for crimes committed in the United States. Many have sneaked back into the United States.

The plan will have to be approved by the governors of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas and Mexico's Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Sonora and Tamaulipas states.

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