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Vigilantes reluctant to disarm as federal government plays tough

Hundreds of extra troops and federal police officers were deployed to Michoacan this week to restore order after self-defence groups seized several small towns as they sought to flush out members of the Knights Templar drug cartel in their strongholds in and around the city of Apatzingan.

The vigilantes took over town halls and disarmed municipal police officers in communities in the rich farming zone known as Tierra Caliente – the center of the cartel’s operations.

After several days of gun battles between the vigilantes and the Knights Templar, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong took the decision to confront the self-defense groups that have been operating with virtual impunity since they began to emerge 12 months ago.

Osorio Chong urged the vigilantes to lay down their weapons and go home, promising zero tolerance for anyone detained with illegal weapons.  He said qualified members of the groups should join the security forces to fight the criminals.

Talks between vigilante leaders and federal authorities began Monday after several casualties were reported when members of self-defense groups clashed with troops in the town of Antunez.

Many vigilantes, or community police as they call themselves, are reluctant to give up their weapons, fearing reprisals against their families if they are unarmed.

The vigilante groups have no faith that local or state authorities – as well as the army and federal troops – can stop the rampant criminality (extortion and kidnappings, in particular) that plague the area and guarantee the security of their families.

Although  Michoacan Governor Fausto Vallejo has relocated his government  to Apatzingan, he is hardly in control of the situation. The security operation is now entirely in the hands of the federal government.

By Thursday, soldiers and federal troops were ensconced in 27 municipalities, all of which were reported as “calm.”


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