updated 1/18/2007 7:43:12 AM ET 2007-01-18T12:43:12

Mexico has captured the leader of one of its seven major drug cartels, the "Diaz Parada" gang, five weeks into an army crackdown on narco gangs, the attorney general's office said Wednesday.

Mexican soldiers and federal police arrested Pedro Diaz Parada, whose cartel operates across southern Mexico, Tuesday in the southern city of Oaxaca, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office said.

The cartel, based in impoverished Oaxaca state, dominates narcotics trafficking in the south and is thought to deal with bigger smuggling gangs based in Mexico's violent northern border region.

Diaz Parada marks a major catch for Mexico's new President Felipe Calderon. He escaped in 1985 from a Oaxaca prison just days into serving a 33-year drug trafficking sentence.

Two years later, according to Mexican press reports, the judge who jailed him was sprayed with 33 bullets, and a note left on his body reading "a bullet for a year."

Major arrest
The arrest is the biggest since Calderon declared war on drug gangs as he was sworn in last month and sent out thousands of troops and federal police to hunt down the cartels behind the brutal killings that plague Mexico.

Mexico recorded 2,000 gangland murders last year as rival cartels battled over trafficking routes used to shift millions of dollars worth of marijuana and Colombian cocaine north to the United States.

Calderon's launched his crackdown in the western state of Michoacan, where killings surged in 2006, and the violent northern border city of Tijuana. Troops have also been deployed to the drug-infested states of Guerrero and Sinaloa.

Former president Vicente Fox launched his own clampdown on drug gangs, but turf wars intensified between rival gangs as a result and violence spread south from the border region.

Diaz Parada was alone, driving through Oaxaca city, when he was arrested. Police found military weapons, bullet casings and 20 bags of marijuana in his vehicle, the spokeswoman said.

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