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Mexico's southwestern state of Guerrero has officially recognized vigilante groups that emerged this year to defend communities against violent drug gangs.
Hundreds of men covered their faces, put up checkpoints and took up machetes and rifles in a rural, mountainous region near the Pacific resort of Acapulco in January in response to a wave of murders, kidnappings and extortion.
The movement began in the municipality of Ayutla de los Libres and then spread elsewhere, as state and federal authorities tolerated their presence in towns where local police have failed to rein in gangs.
Guerrero Governor Angel Aguirre said that under the accord reached Tuesday the self-defense groups will work under a legal framework but will not "participate in political events, put up checkpoints and wear masks."
One of the vigilante movement's leaders, Crisoforo Garcia Rodriguez, said the new force will depend on the state government and will receive salaries, equipment and training.
"There are no guerrillas in this movement, there are no drug traffickers," said Bruno Placido Valerio, another vigilante leader.
"We emerged to provide security to our citizens and now we will make our movement transparent."
It was unclear whether the new local force will be incorporated into an existing, officially recognized community police that was created 17 years ago in a dozen towns, where it enforces the law with indigenous customs, punishing crimes with re-education and forced labor.