Latin America & Caribbean

Mexico vigilantes parade through Knights Templar stronghold

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Media captionFootage shows the vigilantes entering the city backed-up by security forces, as Will Grant reports

Mexican vigilante groups have paraded through a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug cartel in the troubled state of Michoacan.

The vigilantes had driven into Apatzingan on Saturday, backed by armoured vehicles and troops.

On Sunday, they drove round the town shouting slogans before convening at the city's main square.

The groups began an offensive last month aimed at ending the drug gang's activities in Michoacan.

The government recently reached a pact with the groups, granting them temporary legal status by redefining them as Rural Defence Corps.

The Knights Templar cartel controls much of the drug trafficking in the area, carrying out killings and kidnappings and extorting money from local people.

'In charge'

Hundreds of vigilantes, backed up by armoured vehicles and troops, had set up roadblocks around the western city before entering it on Saturday.

Dozens of people have been detained on suspicion of working for the cartel by police and vigilante forces.

"I consider it a triumph, a triumph to be able to be here in Apatzingan," said one leader, Hipolito Mora.

"Many thought it was impossible. Thank God they were wrong and we are here. I feel calm."

Members of the patrols met government forces on the outskirts of the city to discuss their next steps following Sunday's action, according to reports.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The vigilantes say they are in control of Apatzingan

Mexico's attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam said the city was under government control.

Vigilante leaders, joined by the official security forces and the army, have been searching house by house for leaders of the Knights Templar.

Among those arrested is said to be Antonio Magana Pantoja, the brother of Narazario Moreno and cousin of Enrique Plancarte, two alleged cartel founders.

At the beginning of January, the "self-defence groups" launched an offensive against the Knights Templar gang, taking over several municipalities in Michoacan.

On 11 January, they also occupied the central square of Apatzingan, where the cartel's command is based.

But there were reprisals, with arson attacks against local businesses.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The vigilantes have set up roadblocks outside the city
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The "self-defence" groups are now part of the official security forces
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The army has been guarding the Apatzingan's city council

The new strategy has been agreed between the vigilante leaders, army and police officers and President Enrique Pena Nieto's envoy to Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo.

The Knights Templar cartel has accused the vigilantes of working as a proxy army for the New Generation cartel, from neighbouring Jalisco state.

The two rival organisations have been fighting a turf war for control of criminal activities in Michoacan and Jalisco.

But the vigilantes have fiercely denied any involvement with the New Generation cartel.

They say they have taken matters into their own hands as the Mexican government has failed to guarantee the security of their families.

More than 70,000 people have died in drug related violence across Mexico in the past six years.

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