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Mexico's president defends anti-drug policy

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • President Felipe Calderon and top government officials meet with peace activists
  • "The irresponsible thing would have been not to act," Calderon says
  • Javier Sicilia, a poet and peace activist, calls the victims "more than collateral casualties"

Mexico City (CNN) -- Mexican President Felipe Calderon defended his anti-drug policy on Thursday, saying he regrets that many people have died in its wake, but would not apologize for having sent federal forces into the streets to combat crime.

"The irresponsible thing would have been not to act," he said after meeting with Javier Sicilia, a poet and leader of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity.

The activist had said Calderon was obliged to apologize to the nation and the victims, who he described as "more than collateral casualties of an infamous war" against criminal organizations.

But Calderon was unrepentant. "Who will confront those bands?" he asked. "I prefer to take the criticism, even though it may be unfair, than the charge of conscience of having not acted while seeing that a problem existed."

The president said he felt "terribly hurt" for fathers who have lost their children, for police and soldiers who have died and for every one of the victims, but he reiterated that the state did not start the violence.

"Yes, we admit that it is the criminals, the violent" who are responsible for the violence, he said. "It is an error to suppose that all evil comes from the state."

In a meeting between Calderon, who was accompanied by top officials, and representatives of the peace movement, Sicilia asked for a minute of silence in honor of the victims of what he called "an atrocious and senseless war."

Also attending the meeting were 23 relatives of victims of organized crime from the police forces, the military and justice departments, Sicilia said.

Sicilia has led the citizen's movement since his son Juan Francisco and six other people were killed in Morelos. He has also led the Peace Caravan, which has asked for justice for those whose deaths and disappearances have been linked to the fight against organized crime.

Police found the body of Sicilia's 24-year-old son and the six others crammed inside a car in the central Mexican town of Cuernavaca on March 28. Masking tape was wrapped around their heads, faces, wrists and ankles.

Authorities believe all seven victims suffocated, and they have said members of Mexico's Pacifico Sur cartel are suspects.

The case of Sicilia's son has captivated the Mexican public and the country's media. Thousands joined him in "caravan of solace" protest marches across the country, culminating in Mexico City and the violence-plagued border city of Juarez. There, a citizens pact was signed that, among six points, demands the Mexican army, which has been deployed to support the anti-drug effort, be sent back to its barracks.

In the 4 1/2 years since Calderon initiated the anti-drug effort, more than 34,600 people have died in actions by the criminal groups, according to government figures.

The peace activists asked that the victims of drug violence be compensated and that an autonomous group of citizens be created that would work as a commission of truth.

Julian LeBaron, a member of the peace movement, announced plans for a new caravan to the southeast of the country. He invited Calderon, federal soldiers and representatives of the National Institute of Migration to participate.

CNN's Tania Montalvo contributed to this story