NOGALES, Arizona — The mayors of Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Sonora, made an impassioned plea to Arizona tourists Tuesday and promised their safety if they return to shop in Mexico.

Nogales, Sonora, Mayor Marco Antonio Martinez said media reports of increased violence in the border town have been "excessive" and have unnecessarily frightened people away.

"No tourists and no one working in a legal business have been hurt in the violence," he said.

He stopped short of saying the violence should not be reported by the media.

"But the reports should be equal," Martinez said. "The news of violence in Tucson and Phoenix are on the inner pages. The front page should be for good news."

Homicides have climbed dramatically in Nogales, Sonora, with more than 100 killings this year, up from 52 in 2007 and 35 in 2006.

In October, the violence landed Nogales on the U.S. State Department's "travel alert" list.

Merchants in the tourist district have begun to close their shops and many told the Star last month that the industry could disappear.

Martinez said there are 250 special forces from Mexico City in Nogales to monitor and protect tourists.

Octavio Garcia Von Borstel, mayor of Nogales, Ariz., said people should feel safe visiting Nogales, Sonora.

"I believe that the violence that is occurring is occurring between (drug) cartels and not ordinary people," he said.

The two cities work closely together on security measures, and the U.S. Border Patrol has increased bike patrols along the border on the Arizona side, Garcia said.

In Sonora, the tourist police are also on patrol to help guide people and keep the peace, Martinez said.

He said each time a news story appears about the violence in Nogales, restaurants and dentists get dozens of cancellations.

"Nogales is a safe zone," Martinez said. "Come and support this sister city."

● Contact Gabriela Rico at 573-4232 or grico@azstarnet.com.