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Mexico’s vigilante groups infiltrated by gangs

An armed man from a self-defence group poses with his weapon at the entrance of Apatzingan in Michoacan state, Mexico.

Fears self-defence bands are out of control after police arrest 46 suspected cartel members

MORELIA — Mexican police have arrested 46 suspected drug cartel members who worked for criminal gangs but posed as members of the country’s controversial vigilante “self-defence” groups.

The vigilante movement sprang up last year in the western state of Michoacán to fight the Knights Templar drug cartel and the Mexican government has struggled to bring the groups under control.

The heavily armed vigilantes wear white T-shirts with slogans demanding freedom from criminal groups for their hometowns. The federal envoy to Michoacán said yesterday that the arrested gang members were wearing similar, but fake, T-shirts.

The suspects were found with 23 guns, three grenades and a grenade launcher.

The government has set up a May 10 deadline for self-defence members to register themselves to avoid copycats and infiltrators.

Envoy Alfredo Castillo said the arrest occurred Monday in the town of Huetamo, near the neighbouring state of Guerrero. He said that the suspects started shooting against officials to try and prevent from being arrested.

The official didn’t specify which criminal group they belonged to, however there have been reports that the organized crime bands in Guerrero are seeking to expand towards Michoacán, where the Knights Templars have been hit by several blows in the recent months by authorities.

Last week, security officila arrested five suspects who were also pretending to be members of the self-defence forces in the Michoacán community.

In addition, several Knights Templar drug cartel leaders have been detained or killed in shootings with armed forces. One of them, Servando Gómez “La Tuta” is still a fugitive.This cartel took their name from a medieval military order that protected Christian pilgrims during the Crusades.

Nonetheless, Castillo said that federal forces are currently searching the Arteaga community in Michoacán, which is considered “La Tuta‘s” his bastion. But it was not revealed if there were leads on his whereabouts.

In January, the so-called “self-defence” forces agreed to join government law enforcement forces after months of firefights with gang members, many times as federal police and troops stood by.

The government announced at that time that it had reached a deal with vigilante leaders to incorporate the armed civilian groups into old and largely forgotten quasi-military units called the Rural Defence Corps. Vigilante groups estimate their numbers at 20,000 men under arms.

The self-defence groups claim local and state police are in the employ of the Knights Templar. So far, the self-defence groups that have drawn the most attention are those that have sprung up in Guerrero and Michoacán, where there are regular clashes with alleged drug -traffickers.

Fighting between vigilantes and alleged cartel members has racked Michoacán for almost a year.

Analysts have warned that the rise and growth of vigilante groups in Mexico bears strong similarities with Colombia during the 1980s, where militias formed to “protect” rural areas.

Herald with AP

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