Mass grave with 18 bodies uncovered in northern Mexico

Forensic workers at the site where 18 bodies were found in mass graves near Ciudad Juarez, northern Mexico Forensic experts are examining the bodies

Mexican soldiers have uncovered 18 bodies buried on a ranch near the US border.

Troops acting on information from captured drug cartel gunmen dug the bodies out from 11 graves near Palomas in Chihuahua state.

Hours earlier, gunmen shot dead a female police chief in the town of Meoqui, also in Chihuahua.

Chihuahua state is a focus of drug-related violence that has killed more than 31,000 Mexicans since 2006.

It was not immediately clear who the dead bodies belonged to and how long they had been in the graves, prosecutors said.

Forensic experts are trying to identify them and searching the site for further bodies.

Secret mass graves have become a frequent discovery in parts of Mexico, as rival drugs gangs fight for control of smuggling routes into the US.

Gunned down

Also on Monday, suspected cartel gunmen shot dead Hermila Garcia, chief of police in the town of Meoqui, outside Chihuahua city.

Ms Garcia, 36, was killed in the morning as she drove to work.

She is one of a number of women who have recently taken on senior roles in local police forces in Chihuahua because many men are too scared to take the jobs.

Mexico's drug-related violence has escalated since President Felipe Calderon began deploying troops to tackle the cartels in late 2006.

On the weekend police captured an alleged gang leader who they say has confessed to ordering many of the recent killings in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's most violent city, which is also in Chihuahua state.

Arturo Gallegos Castrellon is alleged to be the leader of the Aztecas gang, whose members work as hired killers for the Juarez drug cartel.

Mr Gallegos said he he had ordered 80% of the murders committed in Juarez over the past 15 months. police said.

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