Latin America & Caribbean

Mexican army begins disarming vigilantes in Michoacan

Mexican vigilantes in Arteaga Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Vigilantes will no longer be allowed to publicly carry assault rifles, such as AK-47s and AR-15s

The Mexican army has begun registering the weapons carried by vigilantes in the western state of Michoacan.

The process begins nearly four months after the "self-defence groups" launched an offensive against the Knights Templar drug cartel.

The vigilantes will be allowed to keep their weapons, but will be banned from publicly carrying assault rifles.

Most of the drug cartel leaders in Michoacan have been killed or arrested since the beginning of January.

The vigilantes began the assault on the Knights Templar cartel independently.

They took over several towns before federal police and soldiers were deployed in the area, west of Mexico City.

The vigilantes were eventually allowed to join the official Mexican forces in the operation against the Knights Templar.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Vigilantes are having their finger prints registered and their weapons tested for ballistics matches
Image copyright AP
Image caption The Mexican government envoy to Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo, fires into a water barrel in the first day of the weapons registration process in the state
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mexican police and vigilante groups continue to work together in the search for the Knights Templar leader

Residents of Michoacan say the cartel terrorised them.

Local farmers, shop owners and other residents were victims of extortion, robbery and kidnappings.

This is the first step in a wider process of disarming the vigilantes now that their initial request - the removal of the heads of the Knights Templar cartel - has all but been fulfilled, says the BBC's Will Grant in Mexico City.

The only outstanding Knights Templar leader, Servando Gomez Martinez, alias La Tuta, is being tracked to a region around the western port of Lazaro Cardenas, says our correspondent.

Drug conflict experts say it is only a matter of time before either the authorities or the vigilantes catch up with him.

On Monday, five suspected cartel members were killed in a shootout with vigilantes in the outskirts of Lazaro Cardenas.

The government says the registration process of high-powered rifles and automatic weapons and should be finished by 10 May.

The aim is to set up that a database of the vigilantes' arms, allowing all future use of the weapons by the quasi-legal groups to be traceable.

Vigilantes will also be expected to return to the army illegal weapons, such as grenades and rocket-launchers.

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