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Pipeline attacks in Mexico raise fears

McClatchy Newspapers | September 11, 2007
Kevin G. Hall

Bombers attacked at least six oil and natural-gas pipelines in Mexico's southeastern state of Veracruz overnight Monday, sparking concern that the energy sector of the second-largest supplier of oil to the United States may be increasingly vulnerable to attacks from a fledgling Marxist rebel movement.

The bombings, the second such series in as many months, happened at opposite ends of the oil-rich state.

At least a dozen pipelines, most carrying natural gas, were affected, said Jesus Reyes Heroles, the head of Mexico's oil monopoly Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), without providing specifics.

He said there would be hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production and about nine states and the capital, Mexico City, would be affected.

Some local factories were forced to shut after natural-gas supplies were cut. Residential supplies were not expected to be affected.

At least 21,000 people were evacuated as a precaution. Some of them were later allowed to return home.

The Notiver news agency in Veracruz reported late Monday that propaganda for the Ejercito Popular Revolucionario (EPR), or Popular Revolutionary Army, was found in an unexploded bomb in the town of La Antigua.

The EPR had taken credit earlier for pipeline bombings on July 5 and July 10 in the Mexican states of Guanajuato and Queretaro, hundreds of miles northeast of Veracruz. Those attacks forced the closure of giant multinational factories run by U.S. and Japanese automakers and companies that make Kellogg's and Hershey's products.

That attack sent the Mexican government scrambling to increase security at "strategic installations" across Mexico. It was not clear what security was in place at the pipelines that exploded Monday.

Not everyone is certain, however, that the attacks are the EPR's work. "It seems very strange that they only attack Pemex," said Raul Benitez, an expert on Mexican defense and security issues at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. "They could be paid by some political interest to do this," he said.

Among the groups with a possible interest in damaging Pemex are the oil workers union, as well as political opponents of Mexican President Felipe Calderón and drug cartels, analysts said.

Fortunately for American motorists, the Monday bombings, like the July attacks, didn't strike at Mexican oil exports to the United States. Through June, Mexico exported an average of 1.46 million barrels of oil per day to the U.S. market, second only to Canada.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Cargo explosion kills 28, injures 150

PIEDRAS NEGRAS, Mexico A truck carrying ammonium nitrate to a mine caught fire after a highway crash and blew up, killing at least 28 people and injuring some 150, state and federal officials reported Monday.

Authorities said two trucks smashed into each other Sunday night on a busy highway in northern Mexico, drawing a crowd of curious onlookers as well as a small army of police, soldiers, emergency officials and journalists.

Shortly after the crowd arrived, the wreckage caught fire and the ammonium nitrate exploded, sending a ball of fire into the sky that consumed nearby cars and left a 10-by-40-foot crater in the road.

Ernesto Mata Castillo, a doctor who helped victims of the initial crash, said Monday that the explosion of the apparently unmarked truck was "the kind of thing I have only seen on television, in war zones."

"I saw pieces of the truck flying through the air all over the place," said Mata Castillo, who was driving on the highway about 125 miles southwest of the U.S. border where the accident occurred.

Officials said they did not know what caused the initial crash.

The local police director, Rodolfo Riquejo, said the majority of those killed and injured were families returning home after spending Sunday at some nearby swimming pools.

The force of the blast blew out the windows of a passenger bus about a quarter-mile away.

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