msnbc.com news services
updated 11/13/2008 2:41:37 PM ET 2008-11-13T19:41:37

Mexican soldiers have seized 19 light planes from a hangar near the U.S. border believed to be used by drug smuggling gangs, the army and Mexican media said on Thursday.

The Cessnas were found Monday in a hangar near a small airstrip in the northern state of Sonora bordering Arizona and were impounded after the owner was unable to provide flying permits and registration documents, the defense ministry said.

Mexican media said two men at the airstrip were arrested on suspicion the planes belonged to drug traffickers from the neighboring Pacific state of Sinaloa, led by Mexico's most-wanted man, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman.

The defense ministry spokesman declined to comment.

Traffickers use small planes to move illegal drugs up from Mexico's border with Central America to northern states before smuggling them into the United States, drug trade experts say.

Violence spiraling out of control
President Felipe Calderon has sent some 40,000 troops and federal police across Mexico to try to control the country's powerful drug cartels, chalking up a rash of big arrests and drug seizures, but violence has spiraled out of control.

An unprecedented 4,300 people have died so far this year as rival gangs fight each other and security forces.

Also on Thursday, a crime reporter was shot to death in the border city of Juarez, the latest attack on a journalist as drug violence increases.

El Diario's Armando Rodriguez had covered crime for 10 years in Juarez. He was shot several times early Thursday as he sat in his car in front of his house. Police said they have no suspects or motive.

Mexico has become one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists. Drug gangs routinely target reporters whose stories provide details of their activities.

Many reporters refuse to put their byline on stories, and some newspapers have stopped covering drug violence altogether.

This report contains information from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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