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U.S., Mexico exchange prosecutors

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SAN DIEGO — The United States and Mexico will each send a prosecutor to work in the other's capital under an agreement aimed at increasing law enforcement cooperation, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced.

The exchange is a first for the Justice Department and a sign of increased coordination between the two countries in tracking down criminals and stopping the flow of illegal arms from the United States into Mexico.

"There is no question that the United States is the source of a significant number of guns used to commit crimes in Mexico," Ashcroft said Tuesday during a tour of the border region.

Ashcroft met his Mexican counterpart, Rafael Macedo de la Concha, and Mexican national security commissioner Adolfo Aguilar Zinser on Tuesday to discuss steps to improve law enforcement.

Macedo de la Concha said joining forces is the only way the United States and Mexico could make significant progress in the fight against organized drug trafficking, "which has done so much damage to our societies."

The Mexican prosecutor will work at the Justice Department's criminal division and the U.S. prosecutor will work at the Mexican attorney general's office. Both would work primarily on extraditing criminals.

In addition, each of the U.S. Attorney's offices along the 2,000-mile border will assign a contact person to assist in the prosecution of crimes in Mexico committed with guns from the United States, Ashcroft said.

He also agreed to have the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms help Mexican authorities trace weapons of suspected U.S. origin seized in Mexico, and said the two countries will speed their responses to requests for information and evidence in criminal cases.

"All too often these requests languish and we have both acknowledged that we can do better," Ashcroft said.

Ashcroft said the nations will take additional steps to investigate and prosecute smugglers who lead immigrants on life-threatening treks across the border.