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Mexico drug gang fighting sets off exodus: mayor

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MORELIA, Mexico (AFP) – Almost 2,000 people have fled their homes in Mexico's western state of Michoacan due to fighting between local drug gangs and with security forces, a local mayor told AFP Thursday.

Some 1,870 inhabitants of five villages near Buenavista municipality have left their homes since the fighting started four days ago, Buenavista mayor Osvaldo Esquivel Lucatero told AFP by telephone.

The army sent in helicopters to the isolated areas of the western state, where locals reported loud explosions.

"There's now a strong presence of soldiers and marines in the area," a military spokesman said Thursday, on condition of anonymity.

Despite the intensity of the fighting, only one corpse, of an alleged drug gang hitman, has been recovered, along with six guns. Local newspapers reported at least three dead, however.

Authorities set up a refuge for the families in Buenavista, in at least the second exodus due to drug violence in less than a year, after several hundred people fled their homes in Ciudad Mier, northeast Mexico, last November.

The La Familia drug gang dominates Michoacan, but it was unclear whether the clashes were due to infighting within the gang or with other groups, such as the Zetas, which are expanding across Mexico.

Meanwhile, the toll from a major drug gang clash on a highway Wednesday in Nayarit, a Pacific state some 300 miles (500 kilometers) north, rose by one to 29, according to authorities Thursday.

Mexico has seen an explosion in drug-related violence which has left some 37,000 dead, according to media reports, since the government launched a military crackdown on organized crime in 2006.

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