Mexico Congress backs National Guard, weakens military role

The lower house of Mexico's Congress has passed a measure creating a National Guard _ but it weakens controversial proposals to give the military a greater formal role in policing

MEXICO CITY -- The lower house of Mexico's Congress has passed a measure creating a National Guard, though it was quickly criticized by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for weakening controversial proposals to give the military a greater formal role in policing.

Lopez Obrador said Thursday he hopes the Senate will modify it to restore a greater role for the armed forces.

"It's going to end up as if it were a replay of the Federal Police, which we already know didn't work," Lopez Obrador said the morning after the measure passed.

He called on the Senate to reinsert language that puts the military in charge of the guard's training and clearly defines the armed forces' ability to intervene in public security matters. "I am not satisfied," he said.

Lopez Obrador originally proposed a National Guard under military command as the central feature of his security strategy. Last week, his administration bowed to concerns by saying the force would be placed under civilian command.

Mexico's military has been spearheading the drug war for years. Citizens have grown accustomed to seeing soldiers performing more of a policing role, and generally see them as more trustworthy than police. However, the military has faced a number of allegations of human rights violations arising from the policing role, from extrajudicial killings to torture.

United Nations human rights officials have called on Mexico for years to send the military back to its barracks.

Many saw Lopez Obrador's announcement of the new security force as abandoning any hope of creating an effective civilian police force.

The military would hardly be absent in what passed Wednesday though. The National Guard would initially include military police officers from the Army and Navy as well as Federal Police.

The bill passed Wednesday also gives the armed forces representation on the board overseeing the National Guard, though it would legally be considered a police force.

Creating the National Guard requires a constitutional reform, so passage by the Senate would then require approval by the majority of Mexico's state legislatures.