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Guatamelan Official: Report Is Dubious

AP / El Universal, Nov. 1, 2005

A spokesman for the Guatemalan army cast doubt Monday on a report from the Mexican Attorney General's Office (PGR) confirming that a group of drug cartel hitmen here has hired ex-Guatemalan soldiers.

Jorge Ortega Gaytán, a Guatemalan army spokesman, said Monday that army leaders doubt the reports. "These are their suppositions," he said, referring to the assertions of the Mexican authorities.

Mexico's chief organized crime investigator, José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, told reporters Sunday that at least 30 of the socalled "kaibiles" have been hired by the Zetas, a group of ex-elite Mexican soldiers who now work for the Gulf drug cartel.

In terms of that number, Ortega said, "I don't know how they are counting them. ... They're just throwing out a random number."

The Zetas are former members of the elite Special Forces' Mobile Air Group who deserted their posts in the northern state of Tamaulipas, where they were assigned to combat the Gulf cartel, to become hitmen for the cartel. The group formed at the end of the 1990s.

The kaibiles are former members of an elite Guatemalan paratrooper counterinsurgency unit known for its grueling jungle-survival training. The unit was created in the 1970s and named after an insurgent Maya prince, Kaibil Balam. Still in existence, the group has been blamed for some of the massacres that occurred in Guatemala during its 36-year civil war.

A spokesman for the PGR could not immediately confirm Santiago Vasconcelos's remarks, which come a month after the nation's defense secretary said there seemed to be a connection between the kaibiles and the Zetas.

In September, Defense Secretary Gerardo Clemente Vega said there were indications the Zetas had invited the kaibiles to work with them. The PGR later reported that seven Guatemalans had been detained, but the Guatemalan government said only four of them had been trained as kaibiles.

Of those captured, all but one were deserters. The non-deserter had asked to be discharged from the army, Guatemalan officials said at the time.

The Guatemalan vice chancellor in Mexico, Carlos Ramiro Martínez, said Monday that his government was cooperating fully with Mexico on the investigation into the detainees.

"We are open to exchanging whatever information we have on these ex-members of the Guatemalan army," he said.

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