Mexico captures 'El Tio,' high-ranking leader of Knights Templar

A convoy of army vehicles is parked outside the town hall of Apatzingan, a key stronghold of the Knights Templar cartel, in Michoacan state, Mexico, on Jan. 16, 2014.

Dionicio Loya Plancarte, a high-ranking leader of the Knights Templar drug cartel, probably wishes his arrest was slightly less ignominious.

Mexican troops seized Loya Plancarte, also known as "El Tio," in Morelia on Monday. Authorities said he was found hiding in the closet of a Morelia home. 

Groups of civilian vigilantes had been demanding his arrest as a condition for laying down their own arms.

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Federal forces have moved into Michoacan, in western Mexico, in recent weeks to disarm vigilantes and flush out the Knights Templar gang, which controls large areas of the state.

Self-defense groups of farmers and other local people first took up arms in February 2013 to oust the cartel, claiming local police were either colluding with the gang or unable to stop its violence, kidnapping and extortion rackets.

Poverty-stricken Michoacan has become the most pressing security issue facing Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto.

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He inherited a bloody war on drugs from his predecessor in 2012 that has left more than 77,000 people dead since 2006.

Earlier, the government asked vigilantes to lay down their arms in Michoacan. On Monday, it changed tack, deciding that some of the self-defense units would be sanctioned by the government under the name "Rural Defense Units," according to the Interior Ministry.

The ministry said that self-defense units would be required to register their weapons. The arrangement with the former vigilantes only applied to eight towns, the ministry added. Other vigilantes were not included under the umbrella, and would be required to disarm.