MEXICO CITY – Four soldiers and six gunmen were killed in a sequence of confrontations in the central state of Puebla, Mexican officials said Thursday.
A dozen other people were wounded in Wednesday night’s violence in the village of Palmarito, state Attorney General Victor Carranca told a press conference.
The trouble started when army troops responded to reports about theft of fuel from a pipeline.
As the soldiers arrived, they came under fire at a distance “from a group of individuals who hid behind a group of women and children,” making it impossible for the troops to return fire, the National Defense Secretariat said in a statement.
Two soldiers were killed and another was wounded.
Two hours later, troops encountered the fuel thieves traveling in five SUVs without the benefit of human shields. This time, when the gunmen started shooting, the soldiers shot back.
The battle left two troops and six gunmen dead, while nine other soldiers and two attackers were wounded.
Fourteen suspects are in custody, including two minors, state Government Secretary Diodoro Carrasco said during the press conference.
Troops seized three automatic rifles and a handgun, ammunition, and four vehicles, two of them with armor-plating.
The clashes prompted protests by residents of Palmarito, who blocked a portion of the Puebla-Orizaba highway on Thursday to demand the withdrawal of the army and the release of the suspects.
Carrasco said that the troops will remain and that efforts to stop the pipeline thefts will continue.
Theft of fuel from pipelines for sale on the black market costs Mexico some $5 billion a year, according to state oil company Pemex.