By Julian Cardona
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) – Mexico promised on Wednesday to pour more troops into a northern border city at the heart of the country’s drug war, where a meeting of federal officials was rattled by bomb scares earlier in the day.
Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, has become Mexico’s most violent city as security forces take on drug cartels warring for control of smuggling routes into the United States.
“We aren’t going to give up an inch of the city and we will expel them from Juarez,” Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont told reporters after a security cabinet meeting in Ciudad Juarez, which was heavily guarded by federal police.
“There will be a substantial increase in military and federal police presence in the coming weeks.”
Threats against public officials have been rising in the region. Last week suspected drug hitmen killed two city councilmen near Ciudad Juarez.
Gangs also have threatened to kill the mayor and last week forced out the police chief after killing his deputy and promising murders of police officers every 48 hours.
“They want to sow terror and the municipal and state police are totally overwhelmed,” Chihuahua state lawmaker Victor Quintana told Reuters.
A former soldier attacked a convoy carrying Chihuahua state Governor Jose Reyes late on Sunday in what Mexican media speculated was linked to the drug war.
During Gomez Mont’s visit to Ciudad Juarez, authorities received bomb threats and found traces of explosives in a vehicle parked at the airport, which was evacuated by soldiers and federal police but reopened by late afternoon.
“Anonymous calls to the police and army alerted us to the threats but they turned out to be false,” army spokesman Enrique Torres said.
Frightened travelers waited outside the airport and flights were diverted to the state capital, Chihuahua.
President Felipe Calderon has sent out about 45,000 troops across the country but clashes between rival gangs and security forces killed some 6,000 people last year.
Even with about 2,500 troops and federal police in Ciudad Juarez and surrounding areas, more than 250 people have died in drug violence this month in the city.
Drug trade experts say Mexico’s most-wanted man, Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, who leads a cartel from the Pacific state of Sinaloa, is vying to take Ciudad Juarez’s lucrative smuggling route from local cartel leader Vicente Carrillo Fuentes.
Law and order in the city has collapsed as Guzman’s hitmen seek to destroy the Juarez’s cartel’s entire operation, said Tony Payan of the University of Texas in El Paso.