Mexico’s government has announced that federal troops will take over security in Michoacán, an area where vigilante groups and a drugs cartel are clashing.
The “self-defense groups” seized several small towns in the western state of Michoacán over the past week.
They say they are fighting for the freedom of their communities from the notorious Knights Templar cartel.
Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong urged the vigilantes to lay down their weapons.
But he warned that there would be no tolerance for those who continued fighting.
“Be certain we will contain the violence in Michoacán,” he said after a meeting with state governor Fausto Vallejo in the regional capital, Morelia.
Miguel Angel Osorio Chong also encouraged the vigilantes to join the police forces.
But the leader of one of the “self-defense groups,” Estanislao Beltran, rejected that offer.
“If we give up our weapons without any of the drug cartel leaders having been detained, we are putting our families in danger because they will come and kill everyone, including the dogs,” said Estanislao Beltran.
On Sunday, more than 100 vigilantes seized the small town of Nueva Italia. There were brief exchanges of fire with members of the Knights Templar cartel.
Local police were searched and disarmed, and federal forces were nowhere to be seen.
Some months ago, a small number of federal police were deployed in Michoacán state.
The fertile farming area in western Mexico known as Tierra Caliente has been engulfed in a turf war between the Knights Templar and the New Generation cartel, from neighboring Jalisco state.
The vigilantes say the army and federal troops have failed to guarantee the security of their families.
They say they are preparing an offensive against the Knights Templar centre of command, in the nearby city of Apatzingan.
The criminal gang has accused the vigilantes of having sided with the New Generation cartel, something they fiercely deny.
“What we are doing is fighting for the freedom of our families,” Estanislao Beltran said.