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Mexico, U.S. officials to focus on Nuevo Laredo, Tijuana in renewed bid to curb violence

Associated Press Writer

MEXICO CITY- High-level Mexican and U.S. officials agreed Thursday to step up efforts to curb crime along the border, especially around Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo where drug violence has surged in recent years.

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza said in a statement from Mexico City after the meeting in Laredo, Texas that authorities "agreed that immediate, practical and provocative responses to violence and criminal activity" are needed in those areas.

"Ending the culture of impunity in which criminals currently act along our border will be a strong sign to both cartels and beleaguered law enforcement agencies that all involved mean business," Garza said Thursday.

Garza said officials also agreed on the need for a joint task force to work on kidnapping cases of U.S. citizens. Dozens of U.S. citizens have been kidnapped in Nuevo Laredo in recent years, and many of those cases remain unresolved.

The closed-door discussions in Laredo _ across the Rio Grande from Nuevo Laredo _ came in response to concerns about growing drug violence voiced by Garza last week.

In a letter to the Mexican government, Garza advised American citizens to exercise extreme caution when traveling in Mexico because of "the rising level of brutal violence."

Garza said he sought a joint meeting to discuss the violence after the letter and that the Mexican government's quick response "was further evidence of our strong bilateral cooperation in the battle against crime and violence."

He added that his advisory to U.S. citizens remains in effect.

A wave of drug-related violence has claimed more than 1,500 lives this year across Mexico, many in states on the northern border.

The bloodshed, attributed to rival gangs battling over smuggling routes into the United States, has included beheadings, grenade attacks and the slayings of police chiefs. Mexico has bristled at Garza's past criticism that the country isn't doing enough to combat crime.

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