Mexico strikes deal with vigilantes.

Nearly a year after vigilante groups decided to go it alone against a growing presence of drug cartels in the w...

Nearly a year after vigilante groups decided to go it alone against a growing presence of drug cartels in the western state of Michoac__n, group leaders accepted an offer from the federal government to join formal law enforcement efforts.

The agreement this week aims to contain the advance of informal self-defense groups, which entered at least 15 communities over the past 11 months in an attempt to expel members of the Knights Templar. The drug cartel has been accused of crimes throughout the state, ranging from rape to kidnap to extortion _ despite proclaiming a quasi-religious creed.

_It_s a vote of confidence in the government from the self-defense groups, and from the authorities in the self-defense groups,_ Alfredo Castillo, federal commissioner for security in Michaoc__n, told MVS radio this morning.

However, not everyone is certain the deal will stick, and some worry about the signal the government is sending by working with people who operate outside the law.

_I question if now any person could believe that this _ the Michoac__n example _ is the road to becoming an authority,_ columnist Carlos Puig wrote in the newspaper Milenio.

'El Tio'

A lack of confidence in Mexican authorities has long been the norm in Michoac__n, where former President Felipe Calder__n started the country_s crackdown on drug cartels and organized crime in December 2006. But many locals felt the government and local police failed to curb violence and crime, and took up arms themselves to take safety and order into their own hands.

The groups marched on municipalities throughout the region until the federal government called on them to disarm earlier this month, sending soldiers to seize their weapons, leading to at least two casualties. The vigilantes resisted the call to disarm; many said they wouldn't until authorities proved they were clamping down on cartel activity by arresting senior leaders.

In the past two weeks, the authorities announced the capture of more than 100 suspects. And on Monday morning soldiers detained Dionisio Loya Plancarte, a Knights Templar leader known as _El Tio_ or _The Uncle,_ who was hiding in a closet in Morelia, the capital of Michoac__n.

_There_s now a desire [on the part of the Federal Police] to get to work,_ Estanislao Beltr__n, a lemon farmer-turned self-defense group leader told The Christian Science Monitor over the phone today.

You can see this push _with the detentions [of cartel members] and by how the government is willing to coordinate with us. We_re passing along information to them, all the information that people have given us,_ Mr. Beltr__n says, emphasizing the role he and other vigilantes can serve for state and federal__ forces.

The deal

The Mexican government and self-defense groups reached an agreement on Monday in the municipality of Tepalcatepec, 340 miles west of Mexico City, which would allow vigilantes to participate in local police departments or form temporary military units known as Rural Defense Corps. The vigilantes can keep their weapons _ so long as defense officials deem the guns legal _ and the federal government will supply equipment for communications and transportation.__

_We have no interest in weapons. We want them to put an end to this organized crime and we_ll go back to our work,_ Beltr__n says.

Despite the agreement, self-defense groups continued marching on communities near the city of Uruapan, local media reported on Monday.

Beltr__n was noncommittal about how closely the self-defense groups will adhere to this new agreement, saying, _The communities themselves will determine if we advance or not._

The deal between the government and self-defense forces highlighted once again the shortcomings of Mexico_s security situation _ something President Enrique Pe__a Nieto has preferred not to speak of during his first 14 months in office. Some questioned if the self-defense groups may even be getting duped.

_I don_t believe this agreement. I have my doubts,_ says Father Andr__s Larios, one of the Catholic priests in Michoacan. _The government was scared because they saw that people in these communities could do things on their own__. It_s a way of controlling them and manipulating them._

The Christian Science Monitor | By David Agren

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