Mexican soldiers and federal police clashed with vigilantes on Tuesday after a new government campaign to stop violence between “self-defence” groups and drugs cartels in the western state of Michoacan turned deadly.
There were widely varying reports of casualties, with rumours that women and children may have been killed. AP journalists saw the bodies of two men reportedly killed in a clash that began late on Monday between soldiers and residents in Antunez and spoke with the family of a third man that said he also died in the incident.
Militia spokesman Estanislao Beltran told AP that the confrontation was with about 60-80 soldiers. There were at least as many civilians, according to witnesses.
Beltran told AFP that one soldier opened fire on the crowd, killing four people.
The mother of one of the people allegedly killed, a 25-year-old man hit by a stray bullet, told AFP that the crowd had gathered "just to ask for peace and security".
The National Human Rights Commission said it would investigate the four alleged deaths.
But federal authorities were yet to confirm on Tuesday any casualties while the state prosecutor's office said one person died.
The attorney general’s office said it could not confirm the number of dead. The interior ministry said it had no information about soldiers arriving in Antunez on Monday night.
The vigilantes have converged, over the past few days, on Apatzingan, a stronghold of one of the country's biggest cartels - the Knights Templar - and the hub of the rich farming region that is a major producer of limes, avocados and mangos.
Rumours are circulating that some self-defence groups involved have been infiltrated by the rival New Generation cartel. The vigilantes vehemently deny the claim.
After initially arresting the vigilantes months ago, the federal government under Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong appeared to be working with them recently. The army and federal police have provided helicopter cover and road patrols while the self-defence groups attacked the cartel, but never intervened in the battles.
Security analyst Alejandro Hope, who formerly worked for Mexico’s intelligence agency, called the government’s strategy in Michoacan a “disaster".
“Last week they were protecting the vigilantes,” said Hope, director of security policy at the Mexican Competitiveness Institute. “Secretary Osorio practically said they were useful ... now they’re going to put them down with firepower and bloodshed?”
The government doesn’t agree with that assessment, said an official with the interior ministry who was not authorised to speak to the press by name.
“It’s a strategy that’s being adjusted, modified based on the demands of what is happening on the ground,” the official said.
Osorio Chong announced the new strategy on Monday following a weekend of gun fights as the vigilantes extended their control to the communities of Antunez, Paracuaro and Nueva Italia. Burning trucks and buses blocked highways, while two bodies were found hanging from a bridge.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
Date created : 2014-01-15