Latin America & Caribbean

Mexico Knights Templar leader 'Loya Plancarte captured'

Mexican soldiers patrol the streets of Apatzingan, in Michoacan State, Mexico (January 2014) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mexican troops have been patrolling streets of major towns in Michoacan

Mexican forces have captured one of the country's most wanted drug lords, officials say.

Dionicio Loya Plancarte, known as El Tio (The Uncle), was one of the leaders of the Knights Templar drug cartel in western Michoacan state, officials say.

The government had a 30m-peso ($2.2m; £1.3m) bounty on his head for drug and money-laundering crimes.

Troops were deployed to Michoacan earlier this month after vigilantes clashed with gang members.

The vigilantes accuse the government of not doing enough to protect locals from extortion and violence.

Armed with high-powered weapons, they have pushed out the Knights Templar from some of their strongholds in the Tierra Caliente region.

The army was sent in to restore order and disarm the so-called self-defence forces.

However, many have refused to lay down their weapons until the cartel's main leaders are captured.

Losing its grip?

Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong lauded the arrest of Mr Loya Plancarte.

"He was detained thanks to the work of our intelligence team, the work of our federal agencies which have shown that you can achieve results when you work this way."

Referring to the self-defence groups, he said: "It is not through violence that you can stop [gang members] and detain them, but through the institutional work of the Mexican government, to restore peace to the Mexican people."

After Mr Osorio's speech to legislators in Mexico City, the federal government announced that it had signed an agreement with vigilante leaders to deploy the groups temporarily and as needed.

"These units will be temporary and will be under the control of the authorities," it said in a statement, "to cooperate with the troops in the activities that these carry out and when required by the military command".

Large areas of Michoacan have been under the control of the Knights Templar. However, earlier this month, vigilante groups began occupying much of the gang's key footholds.

The Knights Templar, who claim to protect the local population from attacks from rival gangs, have accused the self-defence groups of siding with the New Generation drug cartel based in neighbouring Jalisco state.

They say the fact that some of the vigilantes are carrying powerful assault weapons shows they are not local farmers but are in the pay of the New Generation gang.

The government of President Enrique Pena Nieto has repeatedly denied that it has lost its grip on Michoacan despite several similar surges in the number of troops and police in the state in the year since he came to office.

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