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Guatemala checking if Mexico drug lord killed

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Guatemalan authorities are investigating whether Mexican drug cartel kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was killed in a clash between traffickers near the border with Mexico on Thursday.

"The first information we have is that it could be him," Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez told local radio, cautioning that authorities could not be "100 percent" certain.

Officials said fingerprints and photos were taken to determine whether Mexico's most wanted man was indeed dead. The information was being cross-checked with Mexican authorities.

The presidency's spokesman, Francisco Cuevas, told CNN that two or three people were killed in the gunfight in a jungle area of the Peten department.

"We are waiting for more precise information in the next hours to confirm or deny if one of the most wanted drug traffickers is among the dead in this clash," he said.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said he had no information yet to confirm whether Guzman was killed and that he was "hoping to get some information" soon.

Meanwhile, Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told reporters that the government was in contact with Guatemalan officials but he too said there was as yet no information to confirm whether Guzman had died.

Mexican military sources told AFP that officials were headed to Guatemala to try to identify the dead.

The state-run Guatemalan news agency, Agencia Guatemalteca de Noticias, said that security forces preliminarily reported the death of two people and the discovery of vehicles and weapons in the hamlet of San Valentin.

But Defense Minister Ulises Anzueto said earlier that he had no information confirming a clash between soldiers and drug traffickers and that he lacked evidence to corroborate that Guzman was in Peten.

The Sinaloa drug cartel leader has been in hiding since escaping from a Mexican maximum security prison in 2001. He had been captured in Guatemala in 1993.

He is the most wanted man in Mexico, and the United States has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

Last week, Chicago named him the city's Public Enemy No. 1, the first criminal to receive the moniker since American gangster Al Capone.

The rumors of Guzman's death came after a visit to Guatemala by the new head of the US Southern Command, General John Kelly, to discuss the fight against drug trafficking with President Otto Perez.

In a recent interview with AFP, Perez said Mexican cartels -- notably the Sinaloa cartel and its main rival, the paramilitary-like Zetas cartel -- have extended their operations into Guatemala. The Gulf cartel also operates here.

The drug war has left more than 70,000 people dead in Mexico since 2006 as warring cartels battle each other and security forces.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130222/guatemala-checking-if-mexico-drug-lord-killed-0