Image: Mexican army soldiers patrol the streets in Ciudad Mier
Dario Lopez-mills  /  AP file
Mexican army soldiers patrol the streets in Ciudad Mier, Tamaulipas State, Mexico. Mexico will send more troops and federal police in an operation called "Coordinated Northeast Operation" to fight drug violence, the federal government said Wednesday.
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updated 12/1/2010 7:39:14 PM ET 2010-12-02T00:39:14

Residents of Ciudad Mier, the colonial town near the U.S. border that was nearly emptied by warring drug cartels a month ago, are slowly returning and tentatively putting their faith in new military patrols, a town official said Wednesday.

Military and town leaders are counting the number of people who have returned to determine the level of patrolling needed and are going door-to-door to survey damage to burned properties and bullet-sprayed homes, a government official told The Associated Press by telephone. The official asked that her name not be published out of fear for her safety.

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Although all the schools have reopened, only about half the students are back in class. The official said most of the residents are choosing to stay in their homes.

"They're comfortable in their houses, hoping they will be provided with security," she said, adding that some are still uneasy. "There were very many months of violence."

A nine-month struggle between the Gulf Cartel and its former allies, the Zetas, finally forced many of the town's 6,000 residents to leave last month, with some fleeing to what became Mexico's first shelter for drug war refugees.

The federal government last week announced major offensives in Tamaulipas, the Mexican state bordering Texas where Ciudad Mier is located, and neighboring Nuevo Leon, which have been overtaken by drug violence since the beginning of this year. The government provided no details of the offensive.

Federal security spokesman Alejandro Poire told reporters at a news conference Tuesday that as a result of the offensive, schools, businesses and local authorities are "conducting their activities normally."

Poire also claimed that stability had returned to the area two weeks ago and that residents were returning. But the AP found a ghost town of shot-up buildings and burned vehicles and about 500 holdouts, while traumatized people in the Miguel Aleman shelter said they probably wouldn't return for several years.

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Roberto Hernandez Mejorado, a civil protection coordinator in Miguel Aleman, where the shelter is, said only about 60 people remained from a peak of 500.

"It was a pretty drastic situation," he said.

A 24-year-old man who runs a gas station in Ciudad Mier said by telephone Wednesday that he was so terrified, he closed the business for a few days in early November. The man also declined to give his name in fear of his safety.

A 29-year-old man who also didn't want to be quoted by name said he has lived most of his life in Ciudad Mier but went to the shelter Nov. 4 because of the "constant shootouts we witnessed." He and his parents returned home last week.

Some of the stores in town are open but not as many as before, he said, adding that he and his family still feared more violence.

"We prefer to stay inside, because we don't know when it will begin again," he said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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