Latin America & Caribbean

Mexico to integrate vigilantes into security forces

Mexican vigilantes in Michoacan
The vigilantes launched their main operation in the beginning of January

Mexican vigilante groups in western Michoacan state have agreed to join the official security forces after weeks of taking the law into their own hands.

The "self-defence" groups have recently taken over a number of towns in their attempt to drive the Knights Templar drug cartel from the area.

The government announced on Monday that the vigilantes would now be integrated into units called Rural Defence Corps.

The vigilantes had clashed with government troops sent to disarm them.

The "self-defence" groups have accused the government of not doing enough to protect locals from the cartels, which extort local businessmen and farmers.

The vigilantes launched an offensive earlier this month, moving close to the stronghold of the Knights Templar cartel in the town of Apatzingan.

Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said the new units would be "temporary" and "under the control of the authorities to co-perate with the troops".

Gang leader arrest

The federal government envoy to Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo, said the agreement marked an important development in the fight against crime.

"This is the start point of the new dynamic in which we are going to work together, the state and federal governments, with civil society," said Mr Castillo.

Loya Plancarte was one of the alleged Knights Templar gang leaders in Michoacan

One of the vigilante leaders, Estanislao Beltran, said his group was keen to speed up the process.

"We are going to dedicate ourselves to regularising our status, having a legal status," said Mr Beltran.

Many vigilantes groups had refused to lay down the weapons and vowed to continue fighting against the criminal organisation until their leaders are captured.

On Monday, Mexican officials announced an important development, the arrest of the Knights Templar cartel leader Dionicio Loya Plancarte, known as El Tio (The Uncle).

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

Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong lauded the arrest.

"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."

The Knights Templar claim to protect the local population from attacks from rival gangs.

They have accused the self-defence groups of siding with the New Generation drug cartel based in neighbouring Jalisco state.

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