Guatemala tries Mexican massacre suspects

Soldiers and police officers patrol the slum of El Milagro, in Mixco, Guatemala, on 2 December Guatemalan security forces are increasingly battling Mexican gangs

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The trial has opened in Guatemala of 14 alleged members of the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas.

The men have been charged with the murder of 11 people in 2008.

Prosecutors say the killings were part of a turf war between Mexican and Guatemalan cartels.

Guatemalan police say the massacre is proof that the violence perpetrated by Mexican cartels is increasingly spilling into neighbouring countries.

US Drug Enforcement Administration officials say Guatemala has long been an important stop on the drugs smuggling route from the cocaine-producing South American countries of Peru, Bolivia and Colombia to the markets in the United States.

Turf war

But since Mexican President Felipe Calderon has stepped up his country's fight against the drug gangs, Mexican cartels are increasingly moving their operations south, Guatemalan law enforcement agents say.

They say the killing of 11 people in Zacapa in eastern Guatemala in March 2008 was the result of a fierce battle between a Guatemalan drug gang and the Mexican cartel Los Zetas for control of the smuggling routes through Guatemala.

Prosecutors say one of those killed in Zacapa was Juan Jose Leon, alias Juancho, who they say was an influential Guatemalan drug trafficker.

The prosecutor's office says it has more than 500 pieces of evidence linking the accused to the 2008 murders and to other crimes including illegal arms possession, armed robbery and forgery.

The two alleged leaders of the gang, Daniel Perez Rojas and Manuel Cardenas, were not taken to the court house for fear they could be freed during their transfer.

The proceedings were relayed to them by video conference.

The trial is expected to take at least 45 days, during which almost 200 witnesses and experts are scheduled to appear.

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