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Fourth army officer held in Mexico drug cartel probe

A fourth high-ranking Mexican military officer has been arrested as part of an investigation into alleged army links to drug cartels.

Mexico’s defense department said it had detained Lt. Col. Silvio Hernandez Soto for questioning on Friday. Three generals – including a former deputy defense minister – have been arrested this week and are accused of involvement with the Beltran Leyva cartel which has smuggled narcotics into the US, according to the BBC.

Retired Gen. Tomas Angeles Dauahare and active Brig. Gen. Roberto Dawe Gonzalez were taken in for questioning on Tuesday, and were sentenced to 40 days under house arrest while prosecutors continue to gather evidence against them, CNN reports.

A third officer, retired Gen. Ricardo Escorcia Vargas, was brought in for questioning on Thursday, and prosecutors have also requested for a 40-day detention.

The generals, all of whom have occupied key posts in Mexico’s systematic efforts to tackle the country’s powerful drug cartels over the past six years, deny the charges against them.

The defense department says the investigation against Soto, who became a senior police commander in Sinaloa state after retiring from the military in 2002, and against the generals is based on a case from 2009.

While a higher-ranking army official, three-star Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, then the head of Mexico's anti-drug agency, was arrested in 1997 and later convicted of aiding deceased drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes, last week’s arrests represent the largest single group of high-ranking Mexican army officers detained in recent memory, according to the Associated Press.

More than 47,000 people have been killed in drug violence since President Felipe Calderón deployed thousands of soldiers to drug hotspots in 2006, according to government figures.

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This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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Mexican soldiers in Mexico City in December 2010.