Mexican authorities and leaders of the self-defense groups who have been battling the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) drug cartel in the western state of Michoacan for more than a year have signed an agreement spelling out the timetable for the militias to disarm.
The self-defense groups must begin surrendering their guns, which include AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles, on Monday and completely disarm by May 10, officials said.
The militia leaders inked the disarmament deal Friday in a meeting at the headquarters of the 43rd Military Zone in Apatzingan, Michoacan, the largest city in the crime-ridden Tierra Caliente region.
The meeting was chaired by Alfredo Castillo Cervantes, the federal commissioner for security and development in Michoacan, and attended by the top two self-defense leaders, Estanislao Beltran and Jose Manuel Mireles.
Not all members of the self-defense groups will return to civilian life, however, as 516 have signed up for what will be the new Rural Defense Corps, which will operate under the control of the Mexican military.
The self-defense groups emerged on Feb. 24, 2013, to defend communities suffering under the Templarios’s kidnapping and extortion rackets.
The militias can safely stand down now that federal authorities have killed or captured the top leaders of the Templarios, Government Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, Mexico’s No. 2 official, said earlier this month.
Federal security forces launched a major operation in Michoacan just over three months ago, when President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration decided to act amid escalating battles between the Templarios and the militias.
Reputed Templarios bosses Nazario Moreno Gonzalez and Enrique Plancarte Solis died last month in clashes with federal forces, while the latter’s uncle, Dionisio Loya Plancarte, is in custody.
Peña Nieto’s administration has identified Servando Gomez Martinez, alias “El Profe” or “La Tuta,” as Moreno Gonzalez’s successor and is offering a reward of 30 million pesos ($2.3 million) for information leading to his capture.
Federal forces and self-defense groups are searching for Gomez Martinez in the caverns of the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range, located between the Michoacan towns of Tumbiscatio and Arteaga.