updated 7/17/2006 12:01:14 PM ET 2006-07-17T16:01:14

Hundreds of soldiers patrolled three cities in the Gulf Coast state of Tabasco on Monday to restore security and hunt down presumed drug traffickers who engaged in a shootout with police that left two officers dead and seven people injured.

The Army was keeping watch in Cardenas, Cunduacan and part of Villahermosa, the capital, about 400 miles southeast of Mexico City, said Tabasco Gov. Manuel Andrade, who did not reveal the number of troops.

The shootout took place before dawn on Sunday when a group of armed men believed to belong to the Zetas, a group led by ex-military men working for the Gulf drug cartel, killed a police commander and opened fire on others in an attempt to rescue two colleagues who had been detained, police said.

After failing in their first attempt, at least 20 men returned with grenade launchers, bazookas and machine guns, which they used to destroy five state police cars, killing a police officer, and the door of the local jail. They were unsuccessful in rescuing their companions, however.

Five state police offices and two civilian women were injured during the confrontations. Hours later, police found the bodies of two other men who had been abducted two weeks earlier by the same armed group, authorities said.

In the past month, eight civilians and two state police officers have been slain in related violence.

During the past year, the Mexican government has sent the Army to several states to combat violence linked to turf fights between rival drug trafficking organizations. The operations have done little to reduce the violence, however.

"The Army will be present ... with the necessary personnel for as long as it takes to look for this armed group," said Gen. Osvaldo Canto Fernandez.

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