MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's army said it had detained a third general for questioning on Thursday, hours after a judge placed the two other officers under a form of house arrest pending an investigation for possible links to the Beltran Leyva drug cartel.
A Defense Department statement did not say specifically whether retired Gen. Ricardo Escorcia was detained in connection with same allegations pending against the other two generals, who were brought in on Tuesday.
But it did note that the detention order for Escorcia's was issued "simultaneously with the two previous detentions, with the aim of having him testify in the investigations" being carried out by civilian prosecutors.
Escorcia retired from active service in 2010 after reaching mandatory retirement age. He previously served as head of the military base in Cuernavaca, a city just south of the Mexican capital that has been considered Beltran Leyva territory.
The leader of the cartel, Arturo Beltran Leyva, was killed in a shootout with Mexican marines at an apartment complex in Cuernavaca in 2009. The marines were reportedly called in to look for the capo after the army appeared to be slow to act on U.S. intelligence indicating the drug lord's location, according to a leaked U.S. Embassy diplomatic cable from late 2009.
The army said that Escorcia was detained by military personnel and turned over to the Attorney General's Office, which had no immediate comment on whether he is named in the same probe as the other two generals.
The office said in a statement earlier Thursday that the other two army officers, retired Gen. Tomas Angeles Dauahare and Gen. Roberto Dawe Gonzalez, will remain under arrest at least 40 days while prosecutors strengthen their case.
The investigation against Angeles Dauahare and Dawe Gonzalez is based on a case from 2009 that includes "the testimony of several people on trial, including some soldiers," the office said.
An official at the Attorney General's Office said the generals protected members of the Beltran Leyva group, which has been battling the Sinaloa cartel since 2008, when they ended an alliance. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to discuss the case.
President Felipe Calderon named Angeles Dauahare as assistant defense secretary in 2006. He left the post in 2008, when he retired. He is the highest ranking military official to be linked to drug traffickers under the current administration.
Dawe Gonzalez is currently assigned to a military base in the western state of Colima.
Angeles Dauahare's lawyer, Alejandro Ortega, told The Associated Press Thursday he hasn't been given access to court files or allowed to talk to his client. He said the general told his wife he is being accused of taking money from associates of Edgar Valdez Villareal, who was allegedly top hit man for Beltran Leyva. Valdez Villareal was arrested in 2010.
Ortega said the general supports himself with an army pension and owns a house and an apartment. He said the general's wife also owns a house she inherited.
A few senior military officers have been arrested for alleged links to traffickers during Mexico's long struggle to control the cartels.
Retired Gen. Juan Manuel Barragan Espinosa was detained in February for alleged links to organized crime and Gen. Manuel Moreno Avina and 29 soldiers who were under his command in the border town of Ojinaga, across the border from Presidio, Texas, are being tried on charges of torture, homicide, drug trafficking and other crimes.
In 1997, Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo was arrested when he was Mexico's drug czar. He was charged with protecting then-cocaine kingpin Amado Carrillo Fuentes.
More than 47,000 people have been killed in drug violence since Calderon deployed thousands of soldiers to drug hotspots, according to government figures.