Monday, February 10, 2014

Vigilantes enter Mexican drug cartel's key bastion

Vigilante militias that have fought a drug cartel in western Mexico for a year entered a key gang bastion on Saturday, manning checkpoints and helping federal forces find criminals. The civilian self-defense forces had their eye on Apatzingan for months, saying it was the "crown jewel" of the Knights Templar gang and a vital trade hub for the region's lime and avocado farmers. Vigilante leader Estanislao Beltran said that hundreds of his colleagues manned checkpoints outside the Michoacan state city of 120,000 to "check who goes in and out." Heavily armed men were seen building walls of sandbags outside Apatzingan, the main city in Michoacan's Tierra Caliente (Hot Land), a lush agricultural region. Another 150 vigilantes were deployed with police and military patrols inside Apatzingan to search "all the homes" of suspected gang members. The vigilantes said they had captured Antonio Plancarte, the brother of a recently arrested Knights Templar leader. Authorities did not confirm Plancarte's detention. Catholic churchgoers packed the Apatzingan Cathedral late Saturday, where the vicar, Gregorio Lopez -- best known as "Father Goyo" -- celebrated mass and prayed a rosary "for peace." The priest, who considers the fight against drug gangs one of his top duties, then led a rally in the town plaza. The crowd of some 400 that gathered to hear him included local residents and vigilantes. Lopez, who wears a bullet-proof vest even when he celebrates mass, has organized peace rallies such as these with no authorization from the Catholic hierarchy...more

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