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Mexico's response to the rise of vigilante groups fighting drug cartels has been "very unclear" and "below expectations," Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
HRW Americas' director Jose Miguel Vivanco warned at a press conference of danger posed by armed civilians taking over the state's security roles.
The government under President Enrique Pena Nieto "has been very unclear" and this has caused "great uncertainty" regarding its position toward the self-defense groups, Vivanco said.
"It seems the government has been learning along the way, improvising the details of their approach against a very serious situation," he added.
But, rejecting statements by Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, who has said the militias could "play a positive role," Vivanco warned: "It is very easy to fall into this type of model where a Frankenstein, with no government controls, is created."
The groups risk ending up "associated with or co-opted by drug traffickers themselves," he added.
Armed civilian groups -- made up of farmers and other local people -- first took up arms in February 2013 to oust the Knights Templar cartel from Michoacan state, saying local police were either colluding with gangs or unable to stop the group's violence, kidnapping and extortion rackets.
Last week, federal forces moved into the western Mexico state to try to disarm the vigilante groups and flush out the drug trafficking gang, which has seized control of large swathes of territory.
But Vivanco criticized the government response as "well below expectations" and for lacking "a clear pattern" in implementing effective public security measures against crime and in respecting human rights.
Vivanco said the emergence of the vigilante groups is "a second order issue" for Pena Nieto, who came to power in December 2012.
He made the remarks in Washington as he presented the Latin American chapter of the annual Human Rights Watch report, which highlights "little progress" by the government in prosecuting killings and disappearances as well as continued impunity for military abuses and torture