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Children traumatized by Mexico drug war killings
Tue Mar 31, 2009 12:46pm EDT
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By Lizbeth Diaz
TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican children were playing in their primary school yard when police shot a drug gunman on the road outside, splattering blood around and sending the crying pupils running to their classrooms.
Mexico's drug war is bursting into the lives of young children, especially in violent northern border cities where they are becoming traumatized by the sight of bloodied bodies and daylight shootouts.
Schools in Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and even the upscale business city of Monterrey have seen drug cartel battles break out in nearby streets, and young children are alarming their parents with their use of graphic drug gang slang.
"Children are scared and we have pupils with very serious emotional crises," said Laura Elena Carrion, a teacher at the primary school in the northern city of Tijuana where children witnessed the killing of a drug hitman earlier this month.
After another Tijuana drug killing this month, children stared from a few yards away as forensics picked up the bodies of three beheaded and dismembered men near a shopping mall.
"It feels awful to see it," said Gabriela, 8, who is being counseled by church workers after she saw a different dead body on a Tijuana sidewalk last month. "Didn't anyone tell them that killing is wrong?"
An escalating turf war between Mexican drug cartels has become the biggest test of President Felipe Calderon's presidency, scaring the public, investors and tourists.
U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Mexico in April, following this month's trip by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and he is tightening security along the border to prevent the violence spreading into the United States.
The drug war killed some 6,300 people across Mexico last year, and the cartels are increasingly using teenage hitmen and breaking honor codes by killing youngsters.
At least 20 children were killed last year in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, the drug war's bloodiest flash points.
In one of the worst cases of violence near schools, gunmen and more than 100 police and soldiers fought a three-hour gun battle outside a Tijuana kindergarten in January, 2008.
TV images of masked soldiers rushing infants out of the school as bullets crisscrossed the street outside shocked even violence-hardened residents.
"Some of the children couldn't come back to the kindergarten after that. It brought back so many memories," said Gloria, a teacher who declined to give her surname.
In Ciudad Juarez, children going to school have had to walk past bodies dumped on roadsides. In one case a body was strung up from a bridge near a school and in two incidents last year, gunmen seized children as human shields, leading to the death of a 12-year-old girl. Continued...
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