APATZINGAN, Mexico — Mexican soldiers and federal police kept a tense standoff with vigilantes Tuesday after a new government campaign to stop violence in western Michoacan state turned deadly.
There were widely varying reports of casualties. Associated Press journalists saw the bodies of two men reportedly killed in a clash that began late Monday between soldiers and townspeople in Antunez and spoke with the family of a third man that said he also died in the incident. No women or children died, contrary to reports by the spokesman for one of “self-defense” groups that have sprung up over the past year to challenge a drug cartel.
The clash occurred as the government sent more troops to the so-called Tierra Caliente, where the vigilantes have been fighting the Knights Templar cartel. The government on Monday had called on the self-defense groups to disarm.
Federal and state officials met late Tuesday with leaders of vigilante groups but failed to reach a disarmament agreement.
“We have to be discreet with our weapons and not move up and down the highways with them,” Hipolito Mora, a lime grower who leads the self-defense group in La Ruana, said when asked about laying down their weapons.
Earlier in the day, members of self-defense groups blocked roads leading into towns under their control, and federal police manned their own roadblocks outside.
One federal officer who was not authorized to speak to the press said they had no orders to disarm anyone or to try to take vigilante-held towns.
The Attorney General’s Office said it could not confirm a number of dead. The Interior Ministry said it had no information about reports from people in Antunez that soldiers arriving in the town Monday night fired on an unarmed crowd.
“This is how they plan to protect the community? We don’t want them,” said Gloria Perez Torres, grieving over the body of her brother, Mario, 50, who was killed in the clash.