Mexico Michoacan state recruits vigilante police to fight drug cartel
Mexican state recruits thousands of farmers to battle the vicious Knights Templar gang
Authorities have started to issue police uniforms and assault rifles to vigilantes in western Mexico, legalising a movement that formed last year to combat a vicious drug cartel.
Scores of farmers lined up on Saturday at a cattle ranch to receive uniforms of the newly created rural state police force in Tepalcatepec, a founding town of the self-defence militias in the agricultural state of Michoacan.
The units also made their debut in the town of Buenavista, which revolted in February last year against the Knights Templars gang because local police failed to protect them.
The government said 450 officers were sworn in.
"From now on, you are in charge of defending your brothers, your families, your neighbours and anybody who can be harmed by organised crime," said Alfredo Castillo, the special federal security envoy to Michoacan.
The national government, which had previously just tolerated the vigilantes, has warned that anybody found carrying weapons illegally after Saturday's deadline to join the police would be arrested.
After the authorities eliminated three of the four main Knights Templar leaders, the vigilantes signed an agreement last month to register their guns and store them at home, or join the rural force.
Vigilante leaders said they still had to settle on details of salaries and who would be in command, though they would work alongside the state police.
The militia had faced divisions but more than 3,300 out of an estimated 20,000 vigilantes signed on to join the police force, officials said.
The rise of the vigilante movement, which spread to 30 towns and chased out many cartel members, brought fears that it could turn into a dangerous paramilitary force.
The violence in Michoacan turned into one of the biggest security challenges to President Enrique Pena Nieto, who ordered thousands of troops to restore order last year and named Castillo as his special security envoy.