Self-defence groups spread in western state of Michoacan as residents protect their towns from violent criminal gangs.
The bullet-ridden bodies of 18 men were discovered after an apparent gun battle between suspected drug cartels in Zacatecas state in northern Mexico, authorities said on Friday.
“There were 18 dead, and the confrontation occurred in the community of San Juan Capistrano, in the municipality of Valparaiso,” said Zacatecas state security department spokeswoman Rocío Aguilar.
There was evidence the deaths in the remote township of Valparaiso resulted from a confrontation between gunmen from the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels, she said.
The battle was between rival gangs fighting over turf, Aguilar told Milenio TV.
Drug-related violence has killed more than 300,000 people in Mexico since 2006, when the government started deploying federal troops to fight the cartels as part of its so-called war on drugs.
Valparaiso borders Jalisco state, a stronghold of a powerful cartel called Jalisco Nueva Generacion.
Authorities say the gang is waging a violent campaign to take control of drug-trafficking routes.
Three vehicles, one of them burned-out, were found at the scene, as well as “a significant number of casings of different calibres,” according to the government’s Local Coordination Group, in charge of security in Zacatecas.
Local media have reported a series of shootings since Wednesday when the bodies of two police officers were found hanging from a bridge in Zacatecas.
But Aguilar said that so far authorities have not found a link between that grisly find and Friday’s gun battle in Valparaiso.
Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador acknowledged on Friday there were security problems in the region, but said his administration was making progress in the fight against crime.
“The state has the obligation to guarantee peace and tranquility, the security of all citizens,” Lopez Obrador said in his usual morning conference.
He said the government was “making an effort” in Zacatecas, as well as other troubled states.
Zacatecas, once dominated by the old Zetas cartel, is being fought over by a dizzying number of cartels. Those jockeying for turf in Zacatecas include the Sinaloa, Jalisco, Gulf and Northeast cartels as well as remnants of the Zetas.