Hunt for El Chapo steps up in Mexico

  • 19/10/2015
Drug baron Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman (AAP)
Drug baron Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman (AAP)

By Carola Sol

Bullet holes on roofs, charred cars and deserted villages have been left in the wake of a military operation to catch fugitive drug baron Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in northwest Mexico.

Remote hamlets around the municipality of Tamazula, Durango state, are like ghost towns as hundreds of terrified residents fled to the nearest city, Cosala in neighboring Sinaloa state, following the intense marine manhunt more than a week ago.

But one place still has the attention of the marines.

In El Limon, troops blocked access to a mysterious ranch, with spikes on the road to prevent cars from approaching.

According to displaced villagers, it was here that marines started to shoot at homes from helicopters in an operation that extended to other parts of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range – the bastion of Guzman's Sinaloa drug cartel.

When AFP journalists approached the ranch, three marines stopped their vehicles, pointed rifles at them and loudly demanded who had sent them there.

A superior then videotaped the journalists and explained that he had instructions not to let anyone through.

The refusal to let anybody pass adds to the mystery of what exactly transpired in the operation to catch Guzman, whose brazen July 11 escape from a prison in central Mexico humiliated President Enrique Pena Nieto.

The government, in a brief statement Friday (local time), said only that Guzman was injured in the leg and face while fleeing an operation in the northwest in recent days. Officials told AFP Guzman hurt himself in a fall and that the operation occurred in the Sinaloa-Durango region.

Authorities denied accusations by locals that the marines shot at the civilian population, with the navy saying on Sunday that it has "strictly" respected human rights.

But residents who fled the area tell a different story.

Ines Ayon Mendoza, 24, said she was making tortillas on the morning of October 6 when a burst of bullets hit her home in Comedero Colorado, near El Limon.

She ran to get her two-year-old daughter when two apparent marine helicopters struck her village even "harder."

Her husband, Gonzalo Elias Pena, told prosecutors that their house had dozens of bullet holes and that her car had burned.

Mendoza and her husband walked for four days along cliffs and through brush with their toddler.

Lacking food and water, they finally arrived in Cosala, where more than 600 others from Durango state have taken refuge, recounting similar stories.