Mexican self-defense members turn themselves in

AP News
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Posted: Dec 30, 2014 11:47 PM
Mexican self-defense members turn themselves in

MORELIA, Mexico (AP) — The leaders of two rural vigilante groups and 35 of their members have surrendered to authorities following a clash that left 11 dead in the western state of Michoacan, a federal official said Tuesday.

Luis Antonio Torres, better known as "Simon the American" because he grew up in the U.S., and nine of his followers surrendered on Tuesday, three days after his rival, Hipolito Mora, turned himself in. Mora's son had been among the people killed in a Dec. 16 shootout between the two groups at a roadblock near La Ruana, a remote mountain town about 160 miles (300 kilometers) west of Morelia, the state capital.

Federal security commissioner in Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo, said 37 people were in custody and authorities had identified another 19 who they hoped would also surrender.

What sparked the shootout was unclear, with each side blaming the other. Castillo said it stemmed from "animosity and conflicts between self-defense groups."

The vigilante groups emerged in 2013, as farmers and ranchers took up shotguns and hunting rifles to push back against organized gangs exerting control in the region, specifically the Knights Templar cartel.

In May, some members of the vigilante groups agreed to become part of an official rural police force that received guns, uniforms and pay from the government.

Since the shootout, Mexican military and federal police have assumed security responsibilities in several municipalities, replacing the rural police.

The detention of Mora marks his second arrest. In March, he was held on suspicion of murder, but later released without facing charges.

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Associated Press writer Alberto Arce in Mexico City contributed to this report.