Leaders of the militias founded to defend communities in the western state of Michoacan from the depredations of a powerful drug cartel say Mexican federal authorities failed to deliver on a promise of cooperation.
Militia members engaged in armed clashes with gunmen from the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) gang in several parts of the municipality of Paracuaro, a spokesman for the self-defense groups told Efe by telephone.
The federal forces deployed in Michoacan since Jan. 13 with a mission to end the strife did not support the militias in Paracuaro even though the vigilantes told them they were on the trail of a Templarios leader, Estanislao Beltran said.
He also complained that militia representatives were excluded from Michoacan Gov. Fausto Vallejo’s meeting with local officials and businesspeople to discuss the security situation.
The conference took place at city hall in Apatzingan, the chief bastion of the Templarios.
Apatzingan Mayor Uriel Chavez, according to Beltran, is a nephew of Templarios capo Nazario Moreno Gonzalez.
“It was an encounter with Templarios,” Beltran said of the governor’s talks in Apatzingan, reiterating the militias’ determination to pursue their struggle “even if it costs us our lives.”
Federal authorities issued a statement Tuesday night seeking to downplay the incidents in Paracuaro.
“The initial reports indicate there were isolated gunshots, without a confrontation taking place,” the Government Secretariat said.
Federal Police and army troops sent to the area found no evidence of casualties, the statement said.
More than 70 suspects have been arrested so far during the operation in Michoacan, National Public Safety System chief Monte Alejandro Rubido said Tuesday at a press conference in Morelia, the state capital.
One of the detainees is Jesus “El Toro” Vasquez, reputed to be one of the seven top leaders of Caballeros Templarios.
The militias, backed by business owners tired of paying protection money to the Templarios, say they will hand over their weapons and stand down only after the entire cartel leadership is behind bars.
The federal offensive in Michoacan began with an attempt to forcibly disarm the militias, but after four people died in a confrontation, the Mexican government changed tack in favor of cooperation with the vigilantes.