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article imageMexican security forces step between vigilantes and drug cartel

By Robert Myles     Jan 15, 2014 in World
Apatzingan - A combined force of Mexican security forces, army and federal police, Tuesday, launched a major operation in the Mexican state of Michoacan aimed at ending violent clashes between armed vigilantes and members of the Knights Templar drug cartel.
The Knights Templar cartel controls much of the illicit methamphetamine trade with the United States. One of the cartel's strongholds is the western city of Apatzingan in Michoacan state.
As a first step, federal police and soldiers yesterday disarmed local police in Apatzingan taking control of the town. In recent weeks armed local militias, who’d ignored calls to lay down their arms by the Mexican federal government, had surrounded Apatzingan.
BBC News reports a vigilante source having told them Mexican soldiers operating in the town of Antunez had shot dead at least three people, one an 11-year-old girl.
On Tuesday afternoon, over 200 Mexican Federal Security forces were deployed in the historic town of Apatzingan (pop. 143,649) supported by armoured units, reports Le Parisien. According to the Miami Herald, hundreds of federal police officers poured into Apatzingan, the regional capital, aboard pickup trucks with machines guns mounted on top, armored vehicles and buses. The security forces assembled in the town's main square as many residents looked on.
Le Parisien reports that according to a federal police commander, speaking on condition of anonymity, municipal police in the town were confined to barracks, disarmed and their communications equipment confiscated.
The federal government’s operations to combat drug-trafficking in Michoacan started last May but had come in for criticism, particularly from the local Bishop of Apatzingán, Miguel Patiño. Last autumn, Bishop Patiño released a letter describing Michoacan as a “failed state,” ruled by drug lords, where murders and extortion were endemic.
The Bishop, who was placed under guard by federal security forces for his own safety, issued his denunciation after armed drug traffickers, believed to be members of the notorious Knights Templar cartel, had carried out acts of sabotage against installations and offices of Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission (Comisión Federal de Electricidad).
As a direct response to the lawlessness in Michoacan brought about by the drug traffickers, a number of locals set up armed vigilante groups. Many vigilantes perceived the whole local and state apparatus as being corrupt. In his letter, Bishop Patiño described the situation, thus, "Local governments and police are under or in collusion with criminals, and, increasingly, there are growing rumors that the state government is also in the service of organized crime, causing despair and disillusionment in society."
It was increasing clashes between vigilantes and the traffickers that forced the Mexican government’s hand prompting yesterday’s large-scale security operations.
Over the past month, the vigilantes had launched a series of offensives to retake control of the municipalities from the drug cartels. In the case of Apatzingán, vigilante groups had encircled the town which boasts a number of historic buildings, many dating back to its foundation in 1814.
As well as security operations at Apatzingán, Mexican forces were also deployed at the town of Cuatro Caminos. There, soldiers reportedly opened fire, after a request to vigilante groups to lay down their arms was ignored. Vigilante sources put the number of deaths at four while local authorities reported at least one dead.
According to BBC News, local citizens say they were left with no choice but to arm themselves since federal forces had failed to guarantee their security in the face of continuing threats, murder and extortion by the drug cartel. One vigilante leader in Michoacan told the BBC, "How does the federal government imagine that we would lay down our arms when they haven't detained a single leader of the Knights Templar? How is that fair? It's illogical. Because if we're left without weapons, they will immediately come and kill us."
More about Mexican security forces, Knights Templar drugs cartel, Drug trafficking, narcotics trade, Michoacan
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