APATZINGAN, Mexico — Vigilantes who have driven a quasi-religious drug cartel from a series of towns in western Mexico entered a gang-held city on Saturday and were working with government forces to clear it of cartel gunmen, a leader of the movement said.
Dozens of vigilante group members, who wore white t-shirts to identify themselves, were seen by an Associated Press journalist speeding into Apatzingan in the back of pickup trucks. The city of 100,000 in Michoacan state has been under effective control of the Knights Templar cartel for several years.
"Federal forces are working with self-defense groups," vigilante leader Hipolito Mora told The Associated Press by telephone from the center of Apatzingan. "Guys from the self-defense groups are moving around the city, cooperating in certain ways with the federal government. Many, many people have been detained."
Mora said federal police controlled security in the city and both armed and unarmed member of the "self-defense" movement were working with them to identify Knights Templar hideouts. He said approximately 200 gang members were arrested, including the brother of one of its leaders, Enrique "Kiki" Plancarte. The government made no immediate comment.
The vigilantes' presence in the city is both a symbolic and tactical boost for the movement.
The control of the Knights Templar group was once so complete that it would have been unthinkable for any rival to enter Apatzingan. The Knights Templar often traveled in vehicles marked with its symbol, a red cross, and sponsored demonstrations calling for the federal police to leave the city.
The military is giving the groups "all the means necessary for communications, operations and movement," their agreement states.