Authorities search for clues and bodies at ranch where at least 43 were killed in gunfight

Police search for clues and bodies outside the ranch in western Mexico where a gunfight left at least 43 dead.

TANHUATO, MICHOACAN, MEXICO (MAY 23, 2015) (REUTERS) – Authorities searched for more bodies and clues on a ranch in western Mexico on Saturday (May 23), one day after a firefight there in which government security forces killed 42 suspected drug cartel henchmen and suffered one fatality.

The three hour battle on the ranch just inside the Michoacan state border with Jalisco, home of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-biggest city, was one of the bloodiest shootouts in a decade of gang violence wracking the country.

Government officials said one federal policeman died and the 42 killed by security forces were suspected members of the Jalisco New Generation (JNG) cartel, a gang based in the neighbouring state.

Peering into buildings and under trees in the 122 hectare property, dozens of police descended on the ground, but had found no additional victims.

“We’re gathering clues in the area of the crime and, up to know, we’ve only found bullet shells,” said an officer who did not want to be identified.

According to government officials, the gunfight began after security forces alerted to an “invasion” of the ranch approached the property and were fired upon by a group of armed men.

After calling in air and ground support, government forces ground down their opponents with the aid of a helicopter, in the end capturing three suspected gang members and seizing a grenade launcher and 39 guns of varying calibres, they added.

Mexican government officials said national human rights commission (CNDH) officials had been sent to the ranch. In previous shootouts between Mexican authorities and gang members, there has been evidence of government executions, raising accusations of human rights abuses.

Jalisco has been a battleground between the JNG and the Michoacan-based Knights Templars, a gang whose leadership has been shattered over the past 18 months.

The JNG has killed at least 20 police since March and, on May 1, its gunmen shot down an army helicopter in southwestern Jalisco, claiming the lives of six military personnel.

The death toll in Friday’s shootout was one of the heaviest to hit Mexico since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office in December 2012 pledging to put an end to years of gangland violence that have claimed more than 100,000 lives since 2007 alone.