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MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Mexico's defense department announced that 70 drums of sodium cyanide were found Wednesday near a dirt road in central Mexico _ apparently part of a stolen shipment of the highly poisonous chemical that officials have been seeking for 18 days.

A policeman discovered the drums in the early morning hours outside the city of Honey, Puebla, 80 miles north of Mexico City, said the city's secretary, Juvencio Miranda.

Miranda said when he visited the site, he saw between 60 and 64 blue, 220-pound drums of cyanide that had been dumped a few yards off a dirt road.

Army troops along with federal, state and municipal authorities sealed off the area and water supplies to Honey were cut as a precaution.

Mexican authorities had mounted a large search for the cyanide and U.S. anti-terrorism officials had alerted customs and state agencies to watch for the blue drums.

There have been reports from New Zealand and Italy of cyanide threats against U.S. embassies in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.

The driver of the cyanide truck, Juan Carlos Alberto Lopez, was under guarded house arrest in Pachuca, Hidalgo's capital, about 55 miles north of Mexico City.

Lopez admitted to improperly leaving the main highway to take a shortcut, a secondary road toward the company that sells the cyanide, Degussa Mexico. He said he stopped _ also against regulations _ to help men in an apparently disabled car. He said those men pulled guns on him and stole his truck.