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Originally published Monday, January 27, 2014 at 9:32 PM

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Mexico legalizes vigilantes, nabs cartel leader

Vigilantes began rising up last February against the Knights Templar reign of terror and extortion after police and troops failed to stop the abuses in the western state of Michoacan.


The Associated Press

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico essentially legalized the country’s growing “self-defense” groups Monday, while also announcing that security forces had captured one of the four top leaders of the Knights Templar drug cartel, which the vigilante groups have been fighting for the last year.

The government said it had reached an agreement with vigilante leaders to incorporate the armed civilian groups into old and largely forgotten quasi-military units called the Rural Defense Corps. Vigilante groups estimate their numbers at 20,000 men under arms.

Vigilantes began rising up last February against the Knights Templar reign of terror and extortion after police and troops failed to stop the abuses in the western state of Michoacan.

“The self-defense forces will become institutionalized, when they are integrated into the Rural Defense Corps,” the Interior Department said in a statement. Police and soldiers already largely tolerate, and in some cases even work with, the vigilantes, many of whom are armed with assault rifles that civilians are not allowed to carry.

Vigilante leaders will have to submit a list of their members to the Defense Department, and the army will apparently oversee the groups, which the government said “will be temporary.” They will be allowed to keep their weapons as long as they register them with the army.

The military will give the groups “all the means necessary for communications, operations and movement,” according to the agreement.

The vigilante leaders, who include farmers, ranchers and some professionals, gathered Monday to discuss the agreement. It wasn’t known if the army would offer anyone salaries.

Misael Gonzalez, a leader of the self-defense force in the town of Coalcoman, said leaders had accepted the government proposal, adding, “we won’t start working on the mechanisms until tomorrow.”

Before dawn on Monday, soldiers and police arrested one of the cartel’s top leaders, Dionicio Loya Plancarte, alias “El Tio,” or “The Uncle” in Morelia, the capital of Michoacan, “hiding in a closet” and accompanied only by 16-year-old boy.

The 58-year-old Loya Plancarte had a $2.25 million reward on his head from the Mexican government for drug, organized crime and money-laundering charges.

The Knights Templar ruled many parts of Michoacan with an iron fist, demanding extortion payments from businesses, farmers and workers, but the self-defense groups have gained ground against the cartel in recent months. Federal police and army troops were dispatched to bring peace to the troubled region, but the vigilantes have demanded the arrests of cartel leaders before they lay down their guns.



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