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Mexico soon to begin extraditing top drug suspects to U.S.

Associated Press Writer

MEXICO CITY- Mexican President Vicente Fox said Monday he's confident the country will soon begin extraditing top drug suspects to the United States, thanks to a recent high court ruling easing restrictions on who can be sent north for trial.

"We are going to start extraditing these drug lords so that they can face U.S. justice and will stop operating in our country," Fox said in an interview with Mexico City's Radio Formula.

In November, Mexico's Supreme Court overturned a 4-year-old ban on the extradition of suspects facing life in prison, removing an obstacle that had prevented many of the country's most notorious criminals from facing U.S. justice.

A subsequent high court ruling last month stated that a U.S.-Mexico treaty supersedes domestic law, thereby removing a point of appeal that could have allowed defendants to draw out the already lengthy extradition process.

The 1978 extradition treaty with the United States allows Mexico to deny extradition if a person faces the death penalty.

American investigators have long said allowing top drug suspects from Colombia to be extradited to the United States reshaped the anti-narcotics battle in that country and that extraditing Mexican suspects could have a similar effect here.

Fox's six-year term comes to an end Dec. 1 and he is barred by the constitution from running again. He said working to combat crime rates that have continued to rise throughout much of the country will remain a top priority, but added that his administration's shortcomings in that area is where the country's "greatest dissatisfaction" lies.

The president acknowledged that drug-related crime and violence have left many in Mexico living on "the razor's edge," and singled out residents of Mexico City and Nuevo Laredo, a U.S.-Mexico border community where investigators say a war for territory between rival drug gangs claimed 181 lives in 2005 and 30 more so far this year. The president also mentioned Acapulco, where violence has targeted police officers.

"Yes, it's a difficult topic, but it's something we are going to focus the full capacity of the government on," Fox said, adding that some drug-related violence has come in the wake of his government's capture of several key reputed kingpins.

Mexican Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca recently said 18 major drug lords have been captured since Fox took office in December 2000. Topping that list are Benjamin Arellano Felix, the suspected operations chief of a Tijuana-based smuggling gang named for his family, and Osiel Cardenas, who authorities say headed the feared Gulf Cartel _ which operated in Nuevo Laredo and elsewhere along the Mexico-Texas border.

Both Arellano Felix and Cardenas are wanted on U.S. drug charges.

Also during the interview, Fox defended the children of his wife, first lady Marta Sahagun, who have been accused of receiving favorable treatment and otherwise getting rich from government contracts.

A congressional committee investigating the matter concluded late last month that there were possible indications of questionable deals.

"I have complete confidence because I know the lives, work and miracles of my own children and of Marta's," Fox said. "And I know there's nothing there, so they can keep looking until they tire themselves out, because they won't find anything."

Sahagun's sons, as well as the first lady and Fox himself, have denied any wrongdoing. The sons are Sahagun's children from a previous marriage. She and Fox wed in 2001 and have no children together.

The special congressional commission was established in June, several weeks after the allegations arose in a book by Argentine journalist Olga Wornat called "Cronicas Malditas," roughly translated "Accursed Chronicles."

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