Army hunt for hitman in Mexico

SOLDIERS are hunting a 12-year-old suspected drug gang hitman accused of helping wage a gruesome turf war in central Mexico.

The boy, known only as "El Ponchis," (the cloak) is believed to be working for the South Pacific cartel in Morelos state, outside Mexico City, and is one of a group of youngsters who have already committed "terrible acts," according to Morelos state prosecutor Pedro Luis Benitez.

"These minors are still not fully developed and so it is easy to influence them, to give them a gun, pretending it is plastic, that it is a game," he said.

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Benitez did not name the boy or give more details, but when asked directly about the teenage hitmen he said: "They're persuaded to carry out terrible acts; they don't realise what they are doing."

One newspaper, La Razon, said the boy is being paid $3,000 (1,800) for each murder and is under the command of an obscure drug lord who heads the South Pacific cartel fighting the Beltran Leyva and La Familia gangs for control in southwest Mexico.

Benitez said soldiers this week arrested a teenage boy and a pregnant teenage girl also believed to be working for the South Pacific cartel.

Crimes committed by minors, ranging from shoplifting to murders for the cartels, have risen across Mexico this year. Parents in the violent cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana on the US border say children as young as eight years old want to grow up to be drug lords, as the thrills and wealth of the trafficking world touches their lives.