Vigilantes seized a drug cartel's bastion in western Mexico, sparking a shoot-out as civilian militias gained new ground in their struggle against the gang in a violence-plagued region.
Hundreds of armed civilians riding in more than 100 pick-up trucks rolled into the Michoacan state town of Nueva Italia on Sunday, and were met by gunfire from presumed members of the Knights Templar cartel.
"They shot at us from two locations and the clash lasted around an hour-and-a-half," said Jaime Ortiz, a 47-year-old farmer and vigilante leader.
Two members of the self-defence unit were wounded, he said, standing in the main square of the town of 40,000 people, surrounded by hundreds of men with AK-47 assault rifles, bulletproof vests and radios.
Some sidewalks were soaked in blood in the town's empty streets.
The growing civilian militia movement, which first emerged in Michoacan nearly a year ago, has seized more communities in recent weeks in their bid to oust the Templars from the state.
The turmoil in Michoacan has become the biggest security challenge of President Enrique Pena Nieto's 13-month-old administration, which inherited a drug war that has killed 77,000 people in the past seven years.
Pena Nieto deployed thousands of troops and federal police to the state in May, but the reinforcements have failed to contain the violence.
Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong has said the self-defence units were illegal. Yet some critics charge the government is protecting them.
The Templars have accused the vigilantes of being a proxy force for the rival Jalisco New Generation drug cartel, a charge the militias deny.