Mexican indigenous self-defense group shows off weapons

Pantelhó (Mexico) (AFP) –


Brandishing weapons including automatic rifles and machetes, indigenous members of a newly formed self-defense group put on a show of strength against criminals in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas.

"El Machete" (The Machete) is one of dozens of vigilante movements to emerge in a country wracked by cartel-related violence.

Its members, from the Tzotziles and Tzeltzales communities, gathered on Sunday at a football stadium in Pantelho, watched by residents in the stands.

A spokesman for the group said in a speech that they armed themselves "to defend their lives against the drug cartels' assassins," accusing the local authorities of colluding with criminals.

Its leaders demanded an audit of public resources and warned that they would not allow the elected mayor to take office on October 1.

On July 7, El Machete's members stormed the local town hall and clashed with a rival group, causing thousands of people from rural communities to flee.

Dozens of soldiers and police entered the town on the same day to try to restore order.

An ambush left several members of the security forces wounded.

Self-defense movements have proliferated since the 1990s in Mexico, mainly in the southern state of Guerrero and, more recently, in neighboring Michoacan.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador opposes such groups, saying that some of them have become fronts for criminals.

It was in the mountains of Chiapas that on New Year's Day 1994 the Zapatista National Liberation Army rose up to fight for more rights for the indigenous population.

The insurgency sparked a 12-day conflict with the federal government that left dozens of people dead, mostly members of the now-demobilized guerrilla group.