Vigilante militias that have fought a drug cartel in western Mexico for a year entered on Saturday a city considered a key gang bastion and they are helping authorities police the town.
Fernando Cano, the Michoacan state deputy government secretary, told AFP that the self-defence forces entered Apatzingan and that “they will be in charge of security” along with federal police.
The civilians were unarmed and they were all members of new “rural defence” forces that were recently formed under the army’s oversight to legalise the vigilante movement, he said.
Vigilante leader Estanislao Beltran said that hundreds of his colleagues manned checkpoints outside the city to “check who goes in and out.”
Another 150 vigilantes were deployed with police and military patrols inside Apatzigan in order to find the “all the homes” of suspected members of the Knights Templar drug cartel.
Fed up with the local police’s failure to curb the cartel’s reign of violence and extortion, civilians began to form vigilante units a year ago in Michoacan’s lush lime and avocado growing region.
The movement has grown since then, posing the biggest security challenge of President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration.
The vigilantes have had their sights set on Apatzingan for months, saying it was the urban headquarters of the Knights Templar and a vital trade center for their lime and avocados.
Pena Nieto deployed thousands of troops to Michoacan in May, but the continuing violence forced him to focus more forces last month in the state’s troubled region of Tierra Caliente, where Apatzingan is located.
In late January, the federal government decided to legalise the movement. Around 600 have signed up so far out of an estimated 20,000 vigilantes.
Copyright (2014) AFP. All rights reserved.
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