Guatemalan druglords menace radio stations

Men claiming to belong to Mexico's Zetas drug gang have forced radio stations to broadcast a threat of war in a northern Guatemalan province where the government declared a state of siege last week.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nery Morales said yesterday that the men arrived at three radio stations in the northern Guatemalan town of Coban and threatened to burn the premises down and kill its journalists and members of their families if the message was not broadcast. The message, which the radio broadcasters read out on Monday, threatened violence if Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom does not fulfill unspecified promises. It said "war will start in this country, in shopping malls, schools and police stations".

On 19 December Guatemala declared a month-long state of siege in the northern province of Alta Verapaz, which is a prime corridor for smuggling drugs from Honduras to Mexico and a bastion of the brutal Zetas drug gang. Residents of Coban say gangs armed with assault rifles have been roaming the streets in armoured vehicles, extorting and kidnapping people.

Under the state of siege 300 soldiers with special powers of arrest have joined police in patrolling the province. Security forces have captured 21 suspected Zetas members and seized 150 weapons since the operation in Alta Verapaz began.

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