Mexican gov't identifies drug lord as top target

Mexico City, Feb 15 (EFE).- Capturing fugitive Sinaloa drug cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is the Mexican government's "most important" objective, one of the country's highest officials said Friday.

The administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who took office Dec. 1, has a "very clear" aim to apprehend Guzman, Government Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told MVS radio.

He said Mexico's security forces are on the trail of El Chapo ("Shorty"), who escaped from a maximum security prison in January 2001.

The 2006-2012 government of Felipe Calderon emphasized efforts to capture cartel bosses, but failed to arrest their lieutenants, allowing new groups to arise, Osorio said.

That strategy, according to the Peña Nieto administration, spurred the creation of as many as 80 new criminal outfits, which tend to be more violent than the established cartels.

"What we are doing," Osorio said, "is not just arresting the chief, but the principal operators as well."

Conflict among rival cartels and between the criminals and security forces claimed 70,000 lives in Mexico during the tenure of Calderon, who gave the military the dominant role in the struggle against drug traffickers.

Both the Mexican and U.S. governments have posted multimillion-dollar rewards for information leading to Guzman's capture.

The drug lord's name regularly appears on Forbes magazine's annual list of the world's richest people.