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Guatemala checking if Mexico drug lord killed

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Guatemalan authorities said late Thursday they had no proof that a clash between traffickers that was rumored to have killed Mexican drug cartel kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman had actually taken place.

Earlier officials said they were investigating whether Guzman, Mexico's most wanted man, had been killed in a shootout in a jungle area of the Peten department.

But Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez told AFP that "we are ending the night patrol because we have not found any evidence that tells us that there was a confrontation."

Calling the possible death Guzman a "chaotic rumor generated by all sides," he said security forces were poised to survey the area, located near Mexico's border, by air.

Earlier Lopez cautioned that although authorities could not be "100 percent" certain, "the first information we have is that it could be him."

The presidency's spokesman, Francisco Cuevas, had earlier 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.

However, he later told AFP that he had based his statements on information from local residents and that teams in the area were now reporting that they had not found anything.

Confusing the situation further is that even 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, about 500 kilometers north of Guatemala City.

But Defense Minister Ulises Anzueto said 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.

Still, officials had said fingerprints and photos were taken and that the information was being cross-checked with Mexican authorities. Mexican military sources told AFP that officials were headed to Guatemala to try to identify the dead.

In Mexico, neither President Enrique Pena Nieto nor Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said they had any information to confirm that Guzman had died.

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-1