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LATIN AMERICA

Mexican government acknowledges talks with self-defense groups

Peña Nieto administration explains it wants to prevent self defense forces from breaking laws

Self defense forces take over the mayor's office in Parácuaro.
Self defense forces take over the mayor's office in Parácuaro. EFE

The chief of staff to President Enrique Peña Nieto acknowledged on Tuesday that the government has been in contact with members of vigilante groups that operate in Michoacán.

Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong accepted that the self-defense forces “are tired of the lack of security” in their state but he explained that Peña Nieto’s administration had decided to establish a dialogue in order to keep them from acting “above the law.” The leader of the militia force, José Manuel Mireles, who suffered serious injuries on Saturday when the small plane he was in crashed near La Huacana, is not being pursued by Mexican law enforcement, he said.

Mireles, who is recovering from a head injury and dislocated shoulder, has asked the federal government for protection following the crash. But Osorio Chong said there was no evidence that foul play was to blame for the accident in which one man was killed and three others injured.

“It was pilot error,” said the presidential chief of staff, who also serves as interior minister.

Mireles’ vigilante groups organized themselves last year to evict Los Caballeros Templarios drug cartel from Michoacán, one of the most violent states in Mexico. The day after Mireles and his group took over Parácuaro on Saturday, masked gunmen set up a major road blockade using two buses, a police patrol vehicle and three cars, all of which were later set on fire. Some hours later, two soldiers were gunned down in Apatzingán.

The situation is tense in the region. On Monday, dozens of people held a protest against the vigilantes, demanding that they call off their campaign, but the self-defense forces claim that the people were forced to show up after they had been threatened by the Caballeros Templarios.

At the same time, hundreds of young people in communities that have been under siege were unable to return to classes on Tuesday following the long holiday weekend — school bus services were stopped last week in towns caught up in the conflict.

Some 4,000 students and 243 teachers were unable to return to their classrooms.

Michoacán Governor Fausto Vallejo said Monday that just because the self-defense groups control more territory in the state doesn’t mean they are a stronger force. “The more they advance the weaker they get,” he said.

 

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