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US targets gun flows into Mexico in bid to stem drug violence

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder visit Mexico Thursday to meet with their counterparts.

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Customs and Border Protection officers stood by guns confiscated along the US-Mexico border. US and Mexican officials will hold a news conference on the issue Thursday in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Denis Poroy/AP

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In the latest flurry of activity to help stem the drug-related violence that has engulfed Mexico and begun to spill over the US border, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder are meeting with their Mexican counterparts today in the city of Cuernavaca.

A centerpiece issue of the visit will be a new US pledge to help stem the flow of guns and other high-powered weapons into Mexico. The US is promising to beef up "exit controls" – improving detection systems at the border and at ports of entry – to help Mexico fight the drug-trafficking organizations behind more than 7,000 deaths since January 2008.

The meeting comes as Mexico, which has long criticized lax gun laws in the US but has offered little in terms of inspections and intelligence, has started to formulate its own policy on the illegal gun trade, even launching a border inspection pilot program last month.

"The complaints [against the US] are old, yet Mexico never had a structured policy to do anything about arms flow until recently," says Georgina Sanchez, executive director of the think tank Collective for the Analysis of Security with Democracy. "Both societies are just realizing how important the illegal gun trade is. And it is very good in principle that both are agreeing to talk and coordinate about these problems."

***US officials now estimate that drug traffickers operate in some 230 American cities, and the Obama administration has underscored a sense of "co-responsibility" for the narco-related violence that has engulfed Mexico and begun to spill over the US border. The trip to Mexico by Ms. Napolitano and Mr. Holder follows one by Secretary of State Hillary Clintonlast week. President Obama is due to visit later this month.

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