ATF says new accord with Mexico will boost gun-tracing program.

U.S. and Mexican officials are just now fully employing a…

U.S. and Mexican officials are just now fully employing a gun-tracing program touted as a key deterrent to weapons-smuggling, nearly three years after it was first announced in Mexico and weeks after an inspector general’s preliminary report called it underused and unsuccessful.

Not enough Mexican investigators had been trained on or had access to the electronic database designed to trace illegally seized weapons to origins in the U.S., a top official at Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Wednesday.

“It doesn’t mean the system is not working. It’s not working as well as it can,” said ATF deputy director Kenneth Melson. “The information was being submitted by people who didn’t know how to trace guns.”

He and Mexico Attorney General Arturo Chavez Chavez signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday that will increase to 30 a month the number of people trained to use the program, known as eTrace, an electronic database that can trace the manufacture, import, sale and ownership of guns. It will also expand access to eTrace to the Attorney General’s intelligence and data-gathering divisions across Mexico.

About 20 people have been trained to use eTrace in Mexico. U.S. and Mexican officials announced in January 2008 that the system would be introduced in Mexico, but it was not implemented in Spanish until last December.

Melson said the system, when used properly, can provide strategic and intelligence information to fight gun-smuggling, establishing trafficking patterns as well as identifying weapons sources.

More than 28,000 people have died in drug violence since President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown on organized crime in late 2006, a battle that Calderon says is fueled by a flow of illegal weapons coming from the U.S.

Source: Katherine Corcoran for the Associated Press.

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