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Thousands flee Mexico's epicenter of marijuana and poppy production

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The pattern of attacks in Sinaloa de Leyva is repeating itself further north in the municipality of Choix and south in the municipalities of San Ignacio and Concordia, where mixed groups of suspected BLO, Zetas, and Juarez Cartel members make regular incursions in an attempt to root residents suspected of supporting the Sinaloa Cartel from their areas of production.

In Concordia, the prize may be control of the new highway that will slice through the mountains, connecting the key port city of Mazatlan with Durango, where a similarly bloody battle is playing out between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas.

But it is in Choix where the recent battles have been the fiercest. During one five-day stretch beginning in late April, at least 21 were killed in running battles through the mountainous region. (Press reports oscillated between 21 and 40 dead.)

The Sierra is the birthplace of the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias "El Chapo," who, along with his partner Ismael Zambada, alias "El Mayo," has ruled this territory for years. For a time, they were partnered with the Beltran Leyva Organization, which also hails from the Sierra.

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