Mexican 'Vigilantes,' Actually Drug Lords, Arrested After Firefight

Thursday, 24 Apr 2014 11:33 AM

By Nick Sanchez

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Mexican drug traffickers posing as vigilantes opened fire on federal forces in the town of Huetamo this week and were ultimately arrested in an ongoing campaign by the Mexican government to rein in the cartels.

Forty-six gang members were taken into custody along with 23 guns, three grenades, and a grenade launcher, Mexican authorities reported to The Associated Press Tuesday.

The men reportedly posed as members of the newly formed town militia, wearing T-shirts that looked just like the ones the militia members made for themselves.

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According to vigilante spokesman Estanislao Beltran, the imposters belonged to the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel.

"We have always stayed in the towns until we have cleaned them out of members of organized crime and when people can live in peace," Beltran said, but acknowledged the upsurge in gang members posing as vigilantes.

"The suspected criminals clearly covered their activities by posing as members of the self-defense groups in that town, wearing white shirts with the words 'Free Huetamo' and 'Self-Defense Group,'" senior federal official Alfredo Castillo confirmed in a statement, AFP reported.

Castillo reported that the government has arrested a total of 110 fake vigilantes across multiple towns in the last two weeks. The arrests come as part of a larger campaign to get the local militias to either disarm or join a rural defense corps overseen by the army by May 10.

Many of the militias formed in February 2013 to combat the Knights Templar drug cartel after they said the police force had been corrupted and completely failed to stop violence and kidnappings.

President Enrique Pena Nieto deployed 10,000 federal police and troops in May 2013 in response to the militia uprisings, and those forces have begun sweeping through so-called Tierra Caliente, "Hot Land," of Michoacan and Guerrero to rid them of gangsters and encourage the militias to accept federal oversight.

According to The Los Angeles Times, some prominent militia leaders have stated public support for the federal sweeps and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities, but have been unclear about their willingness to disarm altogether.

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