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Border town gripped by fear after gun battle

VILLA UNION, Mexico — A small town near the U.S.-Mexico border began cleaning up Monday, gripped by fear after the killing of 22 people in a ferocious weekend gunbattle between drug cartel members and security forces.

A 72-year-old woman living near Villa Union’s city hall recounted how she huddled with two of her grandchildren inside an armoire during the shooting.

The street in front of her home was littered with shell casings, and her walls and door were pocked with bullet holes.

“I’m still trembling,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear for her safety. “We’ve never seen anything like this. It was as if they just wanted to sow terror.”

Around midday Saturday, armed men in a convoy of dozens of vehicles arrived in Villa Union and began shooting up city hall. Many of the vehicles were emblazoned with the cartel’s initials — CDN, for Cartel del Noreste, or Northeast Cartel — as were the attackers’ bulletproof vests.

Coahuila Gov. Miguel Riquelme said state security forces arrived within an hour and surrounded the town, about 35 miles southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas.

Sixteen gunmen were killed, along with four state police officers and two civilians, he said.

On Monday morning, the town of about 6,000 people was strewn with burned-out vehicles, and the city hall’s facade was so riddled with bullet holes it looked like a sieve.

Workers swept up glass and rubble out front and began to plaster over the holes, while others collected important documents. Broken glass covered the floor, a crucifix had fallen from a wall, furniture was destroyed, and portraits of local politicians were pierced by bullets.

Outside lay a burned SUV, a shot-up ambulance and a yellow school bus with CDN spray-painted on the side.

Shops nearby cleaned up rather than open for business. Despite the presence of soldiers and federal police patrolling the quiet streets, no one sent their children to school, and residents did not want to give their names for fear the gunmen could return.

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