Mexico peace convoy arrives in Ciudad Juarez

The convoy is protesting violence triggered by a military crackdown on drug cartels.

Ciudad Juarez: A Mexican convoy protesting violence triggered by a military crackdown on drug cartels has arrived in Ciudad Juarez, on the final leg of its 3,000-kilometer (1,860-mile) journey.

The peace caravan of about 20 buses, led by famed poet and journalist turned protest-organiser Javier Sicilia, reached Mexico`s most violent city late Thursday, greeted by mariachi players and hundreds of well-wishers.

The caravan had earlier travelled through northern Chihuahua state, where demonstrators erected a huge wooden cross outside the local government offices, marking the spot where local woman Marisela Escobedo was killed by a gunman in December while protesting against the release of her daughter`s killer.

Her family had to emigrate to El Paso, Texas, after threats, and some in the peace convoy will cross the border to meet them on Saturday.

Sicilia, who has emerged as the face of the protest movement since his son and six others were tortured to death near the central resort of Cuernavaca, allegedly by a cartel, plans to unveil a plaque to Escobedo in Chihuahua.

The caravan`s arrival in Ciudad Juarez came amid a new spurt of violence on Thursday, when 21 bodies were found strewn around Morelia in western Mexico, several bearing warning notes, just a few days after the peace caravan passed through.

Police said some of the victims` faces were covered by tape and some showed signs of torture.

"The presence of this caravan helps us to break the fear that has engulfed Chihuahuan society not just because of the drug gangs, but also due to the inaction of authorities," local rights group leader Victor Quintana said.

"We strongly need to overcome the fear and tell the government that its fundamental duty is to protect the lives and rights of its citizens," agreed Catholic priest Camilo Daniel, who has long worked to help local farmers.

Sicilia said when the convoy started its journey on Saturday that it was aimed at "justice for the victims and a change in the national security model, so it will not only be based on violence”.

The convoy includes victims` families and rights groups opposed to President Felipe Calderon`s military crackdown, which has coincided with a wave of shocking drug violence that has killed some 37,000 people since 2006.

Ciudad Juarez, a city of one million, is considered the most violent in Mexico, with more than 3,100 murders in 2010.

On Saturday, Sicilia will cross the border into the US state of Texas, where he will meet with American groups opposed to the violence.

The United States "has imposed on Mexico the model of a war on drugs, when (the United States) is the greatest consumer of drugs and the greatest source of arms for organised crime," Sicilia said.

This will be the third mass demonstration organised by Sicilia. On May 08, thousands of people marched through Mexico City in silence to protest the drug violence and the military strategy to combat it.

Sicilia praised the Mexican police after they announced last month that they had apprehended the alleged ringleader of the drug gang that killed his son, but has vowed to continue protesting the military crackdown.

Bureau Report

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