MEXICO CITY (AP) — Thirteen people have been reported as having gone missing during vigilantes' brief occupation of a violence-wracked city in southern Mexico, a human rights official said Tuesday.
The disappearances added to confusion surrounding the takeover of the city of Chilapa by so-called "community police" earlier this month.
The vigilantes, claiming to be self-defense forces from surrounding towns, took over Chilapa on May 9, purportedly to end violence in a city being fought over by the rival Rojos and Ardillos drug gangs. The vigilantes disarmed local police and forced the police chief out, saying they suspected some officers worked for Los Rojos. The vigilantes later returned the police weapons, a new chief was named and state and federal police were sent in to take charge of security.
But some residents claim the vigilantes worked for Los Ardillos.
Ramon Navarrete, the head of the Guerrero state human rights commission, said 13 people had been reported missing between May 9 and mid-month, when the vigilantes withdrew. He said residents apparently waited for the vigilantes to leave before filing police reports.
"There appear to be a number that have gone unreported, because some people are afraid to file complaints ... That is something we can understand," Navarrete said.
The Guerrero state prosecutor's office said in a statement later in the day that it had opened investigations after receiving seven reports of 11 people being kidnapped between May 12 and May 15. It said other families had reported four other people as disappeared.
Violence has been so bad in Chilapa that a mayoral candidate was killed there in early May and a candidate for governor was stopped by armed men in April.
Ten bodies and 11 severed heads were discovered in clandestine graves in Chilapa in January, with most the bodies having their hands tied and showing signs of torture. In late November, 11 other headless bodies were found in the area. In 2014, a Ugandan missionary priest was kidnapped from the area and later found dead.
Residents said they think a much higher number of Chilapa residents have gone missing recently.
Jose Diaz Navarro, whose own family has suffered disappearances, said that "there are a lot of disappeared people, but very few complaints are filed." In the five days that the vigilantes were in Chilapa, at least 16 people, and possibly as many as 30, disappeared, Diaz Navarro said.
He also questioned who the vigilantes really are.
"We call them gang members, because they never really appeared like community police," Diaz Navarro said. "They did not show any document, they had high-powered rifles, so we cannot accept that they were community police."
Community police forces exist 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.
Chilapa Mayor Francisco Javier Garcia asked the federal government for more support.
"I think Chilapa truly has a very serious problem ... It could ignite the whole state," said Garcia. "We are asking the president ... to pay attention to our city."