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Mexico's ex-deputy defense minister probed over cartel links

Agencia el Universal / GDA via AP

President Felipe Calderon named Tomas Angeles Dauahare deputy defense minister upon taking office in December 2006.

Two Mexican generals, including the former deputy minister of defense who helped lead the escalation of the country's war against drug gangs, are being investigated for ties to the drug trade, according to local reports on Wednesday.

Mexican soldiers on Tuesday detained Tomas Angeles Dauahare, who served as the army's second in command until he retired in 2008, and Roberto Dawe Gonzalez, who led an elite unit in the state of Colima, and turned them over for questioning to the country's organized crime unit, officials told Reuters.

Violence, including the discovery of 49 mutilated bodies near the U.S. border, is reaching new levels in the ongoing drug war in Mexico. NBC's Mark Potter reports.

"The generals are making a statement because they are allegedly tied to organized crime activities," the official at the attorney general's office told the news service on condition of anonymity.

President Felipe Calderon named Dauahare as deputy defense minister upon taking office in December 2006, and the general retired in March 2008, according to a military spokesman, who said no arrest warrant had been issued for the two generals and said they were only being questioned at this point. 

Mexico's drug war: No sign of 'light at the end of the tunnel'

Dauahare, who once was considered a potential minister of defense, left the military in "through the back door" in 2008 under a veil of secrecy, according to Spanish-language news agency EFE (Link in Spanish). Francisco Armando Meza replaced Dauahare, according to Mexican newspaper Cronica (Link in Spanish).

EFE reported that in January, 2008, Dauahare said in a speech that groups of criminals had been recruiting members of the army and air force, in particular deserters. 

Desertion, he said at the time, "has always happened. It has increased as of this decade, with workload, absence from home, wages, contributing to the phenomenon," EFE reported. 

Calderon has staked his reputation on bringing Mexico's drug gangs to heel, sending in the army out to fight them at the beginning of his term. 

Jorge Castaneda, former Mexican foreign minister and NBC News Latin America policy expert, talks about the latest developments in Mexico's drug war where this week 49 mutilated bodies were found near the U.S. border.

Violence has spiraled since then and around 55,000 people have fallen victim to the conflict, eroding support for Calderon's conservative National Action Party (PAN), which looks likely to lose power in presidential elections on July 1. 

On Tuesday, a former Mexican law enforcement official who worked closely with U.S. authorities in the drug war pleaded guilty in federal court in San Diego to aiding members of a violent Tijuana-based cartel, including helping traffickers get away with a double homicide in 2010.

18 beheaded bodies found near popular Mexico tourist site

Jesus Quinonez was convicted of participating in a federal racketeering conspiracy and could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

In his plea, Quinonez admitted sharing confidential information with the Fernando Sanchez Arellano drug gang while he worked as an international liaison for the Baja California state attorney general's office.

He is the highest-ranking of four former or current Baja California law enforcement officials arrested in the case and was a primary contact in Baja for U.S. law enforcement agencies. 

A total of 43 defendants were named in the federal racketeering complaint alleging murder, kidnapping and other crimes. Four are still fugitives, and one is awaiting trial. About half of those arrested are U.S. citizens, U.S. Assistant Attorney James Melendres said. 

Msnbc.com’s F. Brinley Bruton, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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