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State Department waited to warn U.S. workers

/ Source: The Associated Press

After deciding last week to help family members of U.S. consulate employees in northern Mexico leave the area, the State Department waited until Sunday to announce the move.

On Saturday three people associated with the consulate in Ciudad Juarez were gunned down.

It is not clear that an earlier announcement would have changed the outcome in the city near El Paso, Texas, since two of the three shooting victims lived on the U.S. side of the border and the third person was a local Mexican not covered by the departure plan.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the decision to authorize the departure of family members of employees of six U.S. consulates in northern Mexico was made no later than last Friday. He was not certain of the date. The announcement was held to couple it with an updated State Department travel warning for Americans in Mexico. The warning superseded one issued in late February.

"It is imperative that U.S. citizens understand the risks in Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations, and who to contact if victimized," the new travel warning said, adding, "Drug cartels and associated criminal elements have retaliated violently against individuals who speak out against them or whom they otherwise view as a threat to their organizations."

Crowley said Saturday's killings are under investigation and that he had no clear indication of whether those slain had been targeted.

Authorized departure
About 100 family members of consulate employees in Ciudad Juarez are eligible for the authorized departure, Crowley said, adding that he did not know how many had decided to leave. He said it was not any specific threat or event that triggered the decision to authorize the departures, but rather a general concern about declining security.

Faye Barnes, president of Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide, which represents foreign service spouses, employees and retirees, said in a telephone interview that she saw no cause for concern that the State Department waited until Sunday to announce the authorized departures.

Of the three killed Saturday, Lesley A. Enriquez worked at the consulate. Her husband, Arthur H. Redelfs, also was killed. In a separate attack the same afternoon, Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, the husband of a Mexican employee of the consulate, was gunned down in their car, according to officials.

Crowley said Enriquez worked in the American Citizen Services section of the consulate but he did not know her title. The section provides a wide range of services to American citizens in Ciudad Juarez, including matters involving arrests, death cases, financial or medical emergencies, and welfare and whereabouts inquiries, according to the consulate's web site.

Crowley said the three killed Saturday had attended the same private birthday party shortly before the shootings. Enriquez and her husband were driving back to their residence on the U.S. side of the border.

The spokesman was noncommittal on the question of whether the three had been targeted by the assailants.

"As to whether this was a particular incident directed at U.S. diplomats, I think we're not prepared to draw that conclusion yet," he said.