ACAPULCO, Mexico (AP) — Mexican police found at least three dismembered bodies wrapped in blankets near a southern city where residents have reported that 10 people disappeared during a vigilante takeover earlier this month and six more went missing in previous months.
The bodies of the middle-age men were found Thursday in a cemetery near Chilapa, a city in Guerrero state that was occupied May 9-14 by vigilantes, who some residents claimed were linked to a local drug gang. It was not clear if the bodies were some of the men reported missing.
Federal investigators have been sent in to search for the missing residents, but questions have arisen as to why the government allowed the armed vigilantes to take over the city of about 35,000 people for almost five days. Authorities appeared not to have resisted the takeover because "community police" groups have some legal standing in Guerrero and negotiations with such groups have worked in the past.
"A decision was made to not act (against them) to avoid the spilling of blood," said a federal official who was not authorized to be quoted by name. "The government preferred to negotiate."
Police found the three bodies after receiving an anonymous tip. The men were apparently killed about five days ago, said a Guerrero state official, who also was not authorized to be quoted by name.
Claiming to be "community police" from surrounding towns, between 250 and 300 vigilantes took over Chilapa on May 9 purportedly to end widespread violence in the city that has resulted from a turf war between the rival Rojos and Ardillos drug gangs.
The vigilantes disarmed local police and forced the police chief out, saying they suspected some officers of working for Los Rojos. After negotiations, the vigilantes returned the police weapons, a new chief was named and state and federal police were sent in to take charge of security.
After the vigilantes left, some residents came forward to accuse them of kidnapping residents and said they appeared to be working for Los Ardillos.
The confusion continued Thursday when Miguel Angel Godinez, the state prosecutor, said in an interview with Milenio television that there weren't any missing people, but rather 15 people were being held by the vigilantes. He said the leaders of the vigilante force are "responsible people" and they will have to say where the 15 people are.
The Guerrero state government said Wednesday that it continued to negotiate with the leaders of the community police forces. It identified the head of the vigilantes as Jose Apolonio Villanueva, a communal farm leader. It said he was fed up with crime in the area and had demanded that marines be sent in.
Community police forces have legal standing in some Guerrero towns, but they are designated by community assemblies. They are limited by law to policing their own towns, usually with low-caliber, single-shot rifles or shotguns. Most of the armed men who took over Chilapa had such weapons, but a few had assault rifles.