Mexico legalises vigilantes to fight cartels

Mexican authorities have begun handing out

blue uniforms and assault rifles to vigilantes in

the country's western region, legalising a

movement that formed last year to combat a

vicious drug cartel.

Scores of farmers lined up at a cattle ranch

on Saturday to receive the uniforms of the

newly created rural state police force in

Tepalcatapec, one of the towns that founded the

self-defence militias in the lush agricultural

state of Michoacan.

The units were also making their debut in the

neighbouring town of Buenavista, which

revolted in February 2013 against the cult-like

Knights Templars gang because local police

failed to protect them.

"With this we become legal," said the white-

bearded vigilante leader Estanislao Beltran,

nicknamed "Papa Smurf," after slipping into his

blue uniform. "We are part of the government."

The new rural police officers then sang the

national anthem at a formal swearing-in

ceremony in the town square.

The federal government, which had tolerated the

vigilantes, has warned that anybody found

carrying weapons illegally after Saturday's

deadline to join the police will be arrested.

But vigilante leaders said they still had to hash

out details on pay and who would be in

command, though they would work alongside

the regular state police.


The rise of the vigilante movement, which

spread to some 30 towns, brought fears that it

could turn into a dangerous paramilitary force.

The violence in Michoacan turned into one of

the biggest security challenges to President

Enrique Pena Nieto, who deployed thousands of

troops to restore order last year and named a

special security envoy earlier this year.

The transition comes amid deep divisions within

the vigilante movement, accusations that it is

infiltrated by cartels and the recent arrest of

one of its founders.

Authorities have also found several cases of

criminals posing as vigilantes.

Late Friday, 135 "pseudo-vigilantes" were

arrested in La Mira, near the port of Lazaro

Cardenas, after clashing with troops, a state

security official told AFP.

The movement's leadership has faced turmoil,


On Thursday, the council of self-defense forces

in more than 30 towns announced the dismissal

of its chief spokesman, Jose Manuel Mireles,

who was absent from Saturday's events.

The council accused him of making public

statements without clearance that undermined

the movement.

It also said "recent actions" by Mireles had cost

the lives of five civilians, but it did not


Authorities said on Friday they are investigating

whether Mireles had a role in the deaths.

Mireles could not be reached for comment.

Another founder of the movement, Hipolito

Mora, was arrested in March on charges that he

was behind the murders of two fellow vigilantes.

He has rejected the charges.

Mireles, a tall, mustachioed doctor, told a radio

station this week that the vigilante movement

was divided and infiltrated by criminals.

Later he released an Internet video message

asking Pena Nieto for a direct dialogue and

saying he needed a new security detail because

he feared for his life.

After the authorities took down three of the

four main Knights Templar leaders, the

vigilantes signed an agreement last month to

register their guns and put them away at home,

or join the rural force.

The militias and the government are still hunting

for the cartel's last top leader, Servando Gomez,

alias La Tuta.

Alfredo Castillo, Pena Nieto's special security

envoy to Michoacan, said the vigilantes had

registered 6,442 of an estimated 7,000 weapons

as of Friday, including 4,497 military-grade


More than 3,300 vigilantes have signed up to

join the police force, officials said. The

vigilantes have said that they have 20,000

people in their ranks.


Kofi Oppong Kyekyeku

I am a Ghanaian Broadcast Journalist/Writer who has an interest in General News, Sports, Entertainment, Health, Lifestyle and many more.

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