Mexican authorities warned Thursday that they would not allow vigilante “self-defense” groups to take over more towns in a western state where civilians are arming themselves to combat drug gangs.
Vigilantes are now providing security in six Michoacan state towns after self-defense forces seized the municipality of Tancitaro last weekend following clashes that left three people dead.
Self-defense leaders say they next plan to take over another town, Los Reyes, with about 40,000 residents, as part of their drive to chase the Knights Templar drug cartel out of the region.
But Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam insisted that the self-defense groups “will not spread. I assure you.”
“The Mexican state will guarantee this,” he told reporters in Mexico City.
Michoacan Governor Fausto Vallejo told AFP on Wednesday that state and federal authorities would arrest the vigilantes if they try to seize more towns.
Several vigilante groups have emerged in Michoacan and the neighboring state of Guerrero this year, saying that local police are either unable or unwilling to stop the murders, kidnappings and extortion committed by gangs.
Officials have accused some Michoacan vigilantes of working for another gang, the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel, which is locked in turf wars with the Knights Templar.
The federal government deployed thousands of troops to Michoacan in May in a bid to stem the violence and ensure that businesses can operate safely again in a state that is a major producer of lime and avocado.
But violence has continued.
Murillo Karam said the number of bodies found in 16 clandestine graves recently at the border between the states of Jalisco and Michoacan had risen to 31.
The pits were found after authorities detained and interrogated 22 municipal police officers from Michoacan accused of handing over two federal police officers to the Jalisco cartel.
The federal agents were not found in the pits.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]