Authorities have warned vigilantes in western Mexico to disarm or face arrest after security forces fulfilled the “self-defence” militia’s demand that they take down top drug lords.
The federal government has killed or captured in recent weeks three of the four main leaders of the Knights Templar drug cartel that has tormented the state of Michoacan.
The authorities had tolerated the expansion of vigilante militias that were founded in February 2013 by farmers fed up with the local police’s inability or refusal to get rid of the vicious gang.
But President Enrique Pena Nieto’s special security envoy to Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo, said on Thursday the vigilantes must disarm, and he renewed an invitation for them to join a Rural Defence Corps.
The disarmament “will have to take place in the coming weeks” along with the removal of barricades that vigilantes have put up in several towns, Castillo told a news conference in the state capital Morelia.
Castillo warned that anybody found carrying weapons illegally after that would be detained.
Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said the government had “delivered results and now the other side must fulfil its word.”
Marines killed the Knights Templar’s financial chief, Enrique “Kike” Plancarte, in a shoot-out in the central state of Queretaro on Monday.
The cult-like cartel’s founder, Nazario Moreno, alias “The Craziest,” was gunned down by troops in Michoacan on March 9.
Plancarte’s uncle Dionicio, who was also a key leader of the gang, was detained in January.
This leaves former school teacher Servando “La Tuta” Gomez, who appeared in television interviews in recent months, as the only top leader at large.
Jose Manuel Mireles, a founder of the vigilante movement in the town of Tepalcatepec, said the militia would “fulfil the commitment to disarm.”
“For the people of Tepalcatepec, for example, the war is over,” he told reporters.
The vigilantes kicked the cartel out of some 20 towns and allied themselves with federal forces in January, but the so-called “self-defence” militias have faced trouble with the law.