PUEBLA - A mayor was shot dead in Mexico's central Puebla state, the third mayor to be killed in the country in less than two weeks, authorities said Tuesday.

Jose Santamaria Zavala, the mayor of Huehuetlan El Grande, was found dead Monday night next to a bullet-riddled sport-utility vehicle, according to a police report obtained by AFP.

The body had bullet wounds and the front of the vehicle was hit, the report said. His secretary, who had been traveling with him, was not there when police arrived and her whereabouts are unknown.

The motive for the homicide was not immediately known.

Some 40 mayors have been murdered in the country since 2006, according to the Association of Mayors of Mexico. Seven mayors-elect and 32 former mayors have also been killed in the past 10 years. Two other mayors were killed last month.

Ambrosio Soto, the mayor of Pungabarato in the drug violence-plagued southern state of Guerrero, was ambushed by gunmen on the night of July 23-24.

Soto's leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) said the mayor had "desperately" and unsuccessfully asked for state and federal government support after receiving threats from a gang.

That same weekend, Domingo Lopez Gonzalez, the mayor of San Juan Chamula in southern Chiapas state, was shot dead during a protest.

In another murder that shocked the country in January, the mayor of Temixco in the central state of Morelos was shot dead in front of her family less than 24 hours after she took office.