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US Official Tries to Head Off Extradition Dispute with Mexico

Concluding a two day visit to Mexico, his first as the newly appointed U.S. drugs policy coordinator, John Walters said he is determined to head off a bi-lateral legal dispute over an extradition case with Mexico.

The controversy centers on the case of Agustin Vazquez Mendoza, who is wanted in the United States for the 1994 killing of a U.S. Drugs Enforcement Agency agent.

A Mexican court has blocked his extradition because the United States has yet to give assurances that it will not seek the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Both governments are currently consulting on the issue, but Mr. Walters, speaking at a news conference Thursday, insisted the matter will be amicably resolved with full respect to the Mexican legal system. "We continue to work with the Mexican government in appropriate channels to try to arrange a way to maximize the effort of the two governments and the tools available to us," he said. "But that is not in any way to violate the sovereignty of Mexico, its courts or its justice system. In fact we both governments have worked very, very hard to be sure we are harmonizing our procedures. We are respecting each others institutions where those are different, and there has been some learning here over the years."

Mr. Walters also pledged that, together, both governments will track down and arrest the Arellano Felix brothers, who lead the Tijuana Cartel, now acknowledged to be the most powerful, violent and influential criminal gang in the hemisphere. "I believe the Arellano Felix gang is the most dangerous drug trafficking organization in the region," he said. "There is not much question about that. And I believe that our efforts will be successful in arresting and bringing to justice those individuals. There certainly are enormous efforts made in connection with some parts of that organization. It is very powerful, but the courage, determination and dedication I have seen of our colleagues in Mexico leaves not doubt in my mind that this criminality will not last."

Mr. Walters also confirmed that the U.S. practice of certifying countries on the basis of their cooperation in the war on drugs has been suspended on the insistence of Mexican President Vicente Fox. He said U.S. authorities are examining ways of the certification law so relationships with many friendly countries will not be impeded.