Mexican police chief shot dead

(First Edition)

TIJUANA , Mexico (AP) - Gunmen ambushed and killed the chief of police and his bodyguard in the latest assassination of a public figure in this border city.

The murders Thursday night of Police Chief Jose Federico Benitez Lopez and his bodyguard, Ramon Alarid Cardenas, on Thursday were sure to fuel rumors rumours of a conspiracy surrounding the assassination here a month ago of Mexico's leading presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio.

Benitez and his bodyguard were leaving the city's airport late Thursday after investigating a bomb hoax when two men with assault rifles fired at their vehicle, police said. The killers escaped in two trucks police later found abandoned. One had California license licence plates. , The San Diego Union Tribune said.

Benitez died at the Red Cross Hospital in Tijuana; Alarid, who was driving, died at scene.

Benitez, a 42-year-old lawyer, had built a reputation as a tough crime-fighter during his year and a half on the job, and had worked to weed out corruption on the police force.

He issued a report that raised doubts about the official version of the 23 March assassination of Mexico's leading presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, inswho was shot while campaigningendins. Authorities say a lone gunman killed Colosio with a .38 revolver, but there have been questions about the number of gunmen and the weapon.

'Benitez Lopez showed great integrity and had a profound vocation for public service in this city which he loved,' Tijuana's Mayor, Hector Osuna Jaimes, said in a statement Friday. yesterday.

Federal, state and municipal police many in plainclothes and carrying automatic weapons set up checkpoints around the city Friday, yesterday. but no arrests had been announced.

Police cars with lights flashing sped across the city in groups of three and four. Cars heading for the United States were searched.

Commander Jorge Alvarez Barriere, who was heading the investigation, refused to comment as he emerged from the Judicial Police headquarters in Tijuana, accompanied by four men holding rifles and automatic weapons.

The incident heightened tension in the city where just three weeks before Colosio was assassinated and five people were killed in a shoot-out. State police were guarding a kingpin from the powerful Arellano drug-trafficking cartel as he rode through Tijuana when federal agents tried to make an arrest and a gunbattle ensued.

'If they killed the police chief, what could they do to the regular people?' asked an assistant district attorney as he walked into his office. He said he was too scared to give his name.