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VERACRUZ, Mexico -- Mexican security forces Thursday found the dismembered bodies of two missing news photographers and two others in eastern Veracruz, days after a magazine reporter was killed in the same state.
Federal forces found "four bags with the remains of four people, with two of them so far identified as (missing journalists) Guillermo Luna Varela and Gabriel Huge," said a statement from the Veracruz state government.
Authorities later identified the other two victims as Luna's girlfriend Irasema Becerra and Esteban Rodriguez, a welder who until last year worked as a news photographer.
The bodies, which were dismembered and showed signs of torture, were dumped in a canal.
The grim discovery on World Press Freedom Day brought to three the number of journalists killed in less than a week in Veracruz, shining a spotlight on Mexico's dire record for protecting journalists amid a brutal drug war.
The state government blamed the latest deaths on an "organized crime gang," without elaborating.
The photographers, who covered crime stories for the Veracruznews photo agency, disappeared midafternoon Wednesday, according to local Notiver daily.
Both of them previously worked for Notiver.
A reporter from that newspaper, Miguel Angel Lopez, was killed last June with his wife and son.
The latest deaths brought to seven the number of journalists killed in Veracruz since the start of 2011, including reporter Regina Martinez from news magazine Proceso, who was found beaten and strangled to death at her home in the state capital Xalapa last Saturday.
Martinez's colleagues said her murder was likely linked to her stories on drug traffickers and local corruption.
Many crime reporters have fled Veracruz in recent years amid threats and turf battles between the Zetas drug gang -- set up by ex-army officers-turned-hitmen in the 1990s -- and allies of the Sinaloa cartel of billionaire fugitive Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
The government of President Felipe Calderon sent federal forces to Veracruz last October as part of a controversial military crackdown on organized crime, which has been accompanied by a spike in violence.
The killings of journalists in Veracruz and other violence-hit areas have provoked outrage in Mexico and abroad but few signs of serious investigations.
Last Sunday, hundreds of people protested in Xalapa seeking a full probe into Martinez's death and slamming attacks on freedom of expression in the state.
At least 77 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since 2000, according to the state-run Human Rights Commission.
"The authorities don't react as they should" to threats against journalists, even after the recent adoption of a law promising to protect media workers, according to Mexico's Cencos watchdog.
"Mexican authorities must act now to end the deadly cycle of impunity in crimes against the press," Carlos Lauria, of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said in a statement Thursday.