Scott Kraft
Los Angeles Times
February 19, 2009

The day began gently here on the U.S.-Mexico border. The cold, starry sky gave way to the orange smile of a sunrise.

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Over at the Pancho Villa Cafe, short-order cook Maria Gutierrez whipped up her egg and chopped tortilla special. Down the street, Martha Skinner, still in her housecoat, brewed a pot of coffee for guests at her bed and breakfast. Her husband, the local judge, walked two blocks to his courtroom to hear the week’s entire caseload: one pet owner cited for keeping her dog chained up, another for allowing her dog off-leash.

Columbus, a settlement of 1,800 people clinging to a wind-swept patch of high desert in southern New Mexico, was a picture of tranquillity.

But less than three miles south, in the once-quaint Mexican town of Palomas, a war is being waged. Over the last year, a drug feud that has killed more than 1,350 people in sprawling Ciudad Juarez has spread to tiny Palomas, 70 miles west, where more than 40 people have been gunned down, a dozen within a baseball toss of the border. More — no one knows how many — have been kidnapped, and the Palomas police chief fled across the border last year and has asked for political asylum.

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