Vigilante group says army killed 4 civilians in western Mexico

Morelia, Mexico, Jan 1 (EFE).- Soldiers opened fire on civilians in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, where federal security forces have been deployed to put an end to clashes between community self-defense groups and gunmen on the Caballeros Templarios drug cartel's payroll, a spokesman for one of the vigilante groups said Tuesday.

The incident occurred early Tuesday in Antunez, a community outside the city of Paracuaro, when unarmed civilians tried to stop army troops from disarming self-defense group members, vigilante group spokesman Estanislao Beltran told Efe.

Soldiers opened fire on the crowd, killing four people, including a girl, Beltran said.

There is no information available yet about the incident in Antunez, Defense Secretariat spokesmen told Efe.

The army has confirmed that at least two people were killed in the town, the El Universal newspaper reported on its Web site.

The shooting in Antunez left 12 people dead, the Reforma newspaper reported, citing unofficial sources.

Three men who belonged to the community self-defense group and an 11-year-old girl standing nearby were killed by the soldiers' gunfire, Beltran said.

The soldiers opened fire after disarming several vigilantes at the Cuatro Caminos crossing on a highway that links several cities in the Tierra Caliente region, which takes its name from the high temperatures in the area, Beltran said.

The Tierra Caliente region straddles Michoacan, Guerrero and Mexico states.

Antunez residents responded to the shooting by blocking the Cuatro Caminos-Apatzingan highway to prevent an army convoy from leaving with the civilians' weapons, Beltran said.

The soldiers then opened fire on the protesters, the vigilante group spokesman said.

"The army is here, we are not going to surrender the arms. We are going to die here, we are all going to die," Beltran said, adding that officials were protecting the drug traffickers that operate in the state.

The shooting occurred hours after Government Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong announced that federal forces would police the areas in Michoacan that have been rocked by clashes between drug traffickers and vigilante groups.

Osorio Chong made the announcement Monday after meeting with state officials, including Gov. Fausto Vallejo, in Morelia, the capital of Michoacan.

The federal official also called on members of community self-defense groups to "return to where you came from and go back to your daily activities."

"There will be no tolerance for anyone caught with firearms" without legal authorization, Osorio Chong said.

Some Mexican analysts say Michoacan is close to becoming a failed state because some areas are ungovernable due to the presence of drug traffickers and the emergence of vigilante groups.

Los Caballeros Templarios, which was founded in December 2010 by former members of the Familia Michoacana cartel, deals in both synthetic drugs and natural drugs.

The community self-defense groups emerged in Michoacan in February 2013 to fight the cartel.

Community self-defense groups and community police forces have been formed in 15 of Michoacan's 113 cities.