Vigilantes say Mexico government persecuting them

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Leaders of Mexican vigilante groups that rose up against the Knights Templar drug cartel in western Michoacan state say they are being persecuted not only by criminals but also by authorities, who recently detained one of their top leaders.

Vigilante spokesman Estanislao Beltran said Sunday the civilian "self-defense" groups' leadership met this weekend to try to form a united front to demand that the Mexican government live up to its promises of bringing security to Michoacan and forming a national guard.

Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles, a self-defense group leader in Tepacaltepec, said in an audio message posted on the Internet that the groups are "being persecuted by the Knights Templar, the army, the navy and all the police departments."

Authorities last week filed charges against vigilante leader Hipolito Mora in the killing of two members of a rival vigilante faction. His detention came as federal authorities sought to heal a rift between his faction and another vigilante group.

Mireles claimed that prosecutors levied the charges because Mora dared to demand that the government keep its promises.

"When (Mora) put pressure on authorities because they haven't fulfilled their part of the accords, they became demanding and now say there are 35 complaints against him," Mireles said.

"And now they are coming after us, they want to scare us," he added.

Mireles's statement came a day after a federal official said the government would "put a stop" to the vigilantes.

The federal government said in January that it would legalize the self-defense groups and bring them under the army's control, but that hasn't happened.

Beltran said Mireles' statement was "to point out we have coordinated our work with authorities and that has worked."

"We want to make clear we want to keep working with the government," he added.

Self-defense forces were initially well received by local residents tired of the Knights Templars' extortion, kidnapping and murder, but some businessmen have complained that the armed groups are now extorting them.