Security forces kill five during gunfight in northern Mexico town

US President Donald Trump has said he wants to designate Mexican cartels as terrorist groups

FILE PHOTO: Police officers patrol at a road after fellow police officers were killed during an ambush by suspected cartel hitmen in El Aguaje, in Michoacan state, Mexico October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Alan Ortega/File Photo
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Mexican security forces killed at least five suspected cartel gunmen in a shootout on Saturday in a town near the US border, authorities from the northern state of Coahuila said, during a moment of heightened bilateral tension over violent gangs.

The Coahuila attorney general's office said in a statement that state security officials shot dead the five suspects during clashes in the small town of Villa Union, about 65 kilometres southwest of the border city of Piedras Negras.

Around midday local time, heavy gunfire began ringing out, and a convoy of armed pickup trucks could be seen moving around Villa Union, according to video clips posted by social media users. Others showed plumes of smoke rising from the town.

They also posted photos of burned-out vehicles and the Villa Union mayor's office riddled with bullet holes. Reuters could not vouch for the authenticity of the video or photos.

The outbreak of violence occurred during a testing week for the government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who on Friday said he would not accept any foreign intervention in Mexico to deal with violent criminal gangs.

Lopez Obrador says Mexico will handle the problem.

Earlier in the week, US President Donald Trump said he planned to designate Mexican cartels as terrorist groups, sparking concerns the move could serve as a prelude to the United States trying to intervene unilaterally in Mexico.

US Attorney General William Barr is due to visit Mexico next week to discuss cooperation over security.

Lopez Obrador took office a year ago pledging to pacify the country after more than a decade of gang-fueled violence.

A series of recent security lapses has raised questions about the left-leaning administration's strategy.

Criticism has focused on the November 4 massacre of nine women and children of US-Mexican origin, and the armed forces' release of a captured son of drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman under pressure from cartel gunmen in the city of Culiacan.

Coahuila has a history of gang violence, though the homicide total in the state is well below where it was seven years ago. National homicide levels are pushing record levels.