Mexico steps up efforts to fight war on drugs

The government has appointed a commissioner in an effort to stop clashes between vigilantes and drug cartels.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2014 07:47
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Mexican federal forces have increased efforts to take control of the violent western state of Michoacan, as masked vigilantes and members of one of the country's most powerful cartels fight for control of the state's lawless regions.

We're hurting because he died in cold blood, because of those cowardly soldiers of Battalion 51, because 'El Chayo' has bought them, it's them (cartel members) who give the orders and the military need to obey their master.

Maria Iberra, Vigilante leader

The announcement was made on Wednesday, one day after vigilantes took over the town of Nueva Italia in an attempt to drive out the notorious Knights Templar cartel.

Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong reported to the media in Mexico City on Wednesday that the government was close to finding three cartel leaders and that he had appointed Commissioner Alfredo Castillo Cervantes to oversee security efforts in Michoacan.

"Our objective is to reconstruct permanent, collaborative relations between society and government. Our objective is to secure at all times the state of law without exception," the commissioner said.

In the west-central Michoacan town of Apatzingan, police and military rounded up local military police who are under investigation for alleged ties to drug cartels in the state.

Mexico's government has urged vigilantes to put down their weapons and leave security to the authorities.

Vigilante alliance

But in an interview with Reuters news agency, vigilante leader Hipolito Mora said he would not stand down.

Civilian self-defence forces claim they are stepping in to do the job of corrupt state and municipal police who are paid off by drug traffickers.

"They (the government) don't want us to stay with the weapons, we say that we want to. We can give them an opportunity, that one or two of us go (with them) to show them the houses of drug traffickers and that's the way they want," he said.

Vigilantes have offered to reveal the locations of Knights Templar cartel leaders to federal forces in an attempt to uncover drug activity.

"The main leaders of the Knights Templar, those who give the orders, are Nazario Moreno, alias 'El Chayo', 'The Number One', 'La Tuta' and 'Quique Plancarte', those three," Mora said. "There are more, we know roughly where they are but not exactly the place but we know which region."

Analysts have warned that forcing vigilante groups to put down their weapons could create even larger urban conflicts.

War on drugs

Earlier this week, local media reported that two men were killed in a confrontation between vigilantes and the military.

Vigilante leader Maria Iberra accused soldiers of following the orders of cartel members by killing two members of the self-defence forces.

"The fight will continue too, and now with greater reason because they killed a colleague. We're hurting because he died in cold blood, because of those cowardly soldiers of Battalion 51, because 'El Chayo' has bought them, it's them (cartel members) who give the orders and the military need to obey their master," she said.

The vigilantes range from farmers with machetes, shotguns and AK-47s to others with military training and sophisticated weapons like Israeli assault rifles.

But many vigilantes lack military training and some fear they will become easy targets in an increasingly bloody war on drugs.

Michoacan's murder rate has nearly doubled since 2006, as traffickers have increasingly turned from marijuana plantations to producing methamphetamine in crude laboratories hidden in the state's mountains and avocado groves.


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