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Latino Daily News

Friday August 16, 2013

46 Members of Indigenous Militia Arrested in Mexico

46 Members of Indigenous Militia Arrested in Mexico

Photo: Mexican Police

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Mexican federal police and soldiers detained 46 members of a local self-defense group in an indigenous community on the Pacific coast, the Michoacan state Attorney General’s Office said.

The more than 400 troops and police who took part in the roundup in Aquila seized 30 guns, including 11 assault rifles, from the militia members, the state AG’s office told Efe.

A spokesman for the Aquila militia said the number of members taken into custody was only around half of what authorities claimed.

Residents of Aquila and the nearby indigenous communities of Tepalcatepec, Aguililla, Buenavista, Coalcoman, Los Reyes and Cheran recently formed militias to defend themselves against a criminal organization that calls itself “Los Caballeros Templarios” (Knights Templar).

The militias are lawful under provisions of the Mexican Constitution that protect traditional customs and practices of indigenous populations.

The Caballeros, who originated in 2010 as a faction of La Familia Michoacana, are said to dominate the trade in synthetic drugs bound for the United States, such as crystal meth.

But the gang also preys on ordinary people in Michoacan, engaging in extortion, kidnapping and murder.

The Caballeros have been demanding monthly payments of 2,000 pesos ($157) from each of the 401 Aquila residents who receive royalties from an iron mine on their territory, the militia spokesman said.

The spokesman also said the detention of the militia members was a reprisal for the Aquila group’s capture and handover to federal police of a soldier who admitted working for a local drug kingpin.

The soldiers who arrested the militia members searched Aquila’s Communal House and seized files detailing the royalty payments made to the community by multinational miner Ternium, according to the spokesman.

Troops also burst into dozens of houses looking for community leader Agustin Villanueva Ramirez, accused by Ternium of stealing 10 mining trucks.

That charge is a smokescreen, the militia spokesman said, insisting that Ternium is angry because Villanueva successfully pressed the company to boost the royalty to $3.80 per ton of iron extracted.

Four Aquila residents were wounded by gunfire during the soldiers’ raid, including a pregnant woman, the spokesman said.