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23 bodies found in conflict area in western Mexico

Published August 17, 2013 6:55 pm

Violence • Self-defense groups have risen to fight cartels.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Morelia, Mexico • At least 23 bodies were found in two neighboring states in western Mexico where drug cartels, vigilantes and security forces have been fighting for much of the year, authorities said Saturday.

The state prosecutor in Michoacan said that nine bodies, hands bound and shot, were found on an abandoned property near the town of Buenavista Tomatlan along with a sign indicating they may have been members of the Knights Templar cartel.

The remote area near the Jalisco state border has suffered a wave of violence for most of this year, as self-defense groups have risen up to battle the Knights Templar, which controls the territory with killings and extortion. Authorities say some groups are supported by a rival cartel, Jalisco New Generation, also fighting the Knights Templar. The groups deny that.

The sign read: "For those who continue to support the Knights Templar, we are here, united," said prosecutor's spokesman Alejandro Arellano said. The note was signed with the initials of the New Generation, as well as the initials G.C., indicating a community-based, self-defense group.

The government of President Enrique Pena Nieto sent thousands of troops and federal police to the area in May to regain control of the state. While residents initially cheered the arrival and some self-defense groups agreed to put down their arms, the calm was short-lived. Even as the government claims that killings across Mexico are down, it has struggled to come up with an effective strategy for Michoacan and neighboring Guerrero state, an area known as the Tierra Caliente, or Hot Land, for its climate.

The government response so far has mirrored that of Pena Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderon, who started his drug offensive as president by sending troops to Michoacan in 2006, and periodically thereafter, with little result.

The Knights Templar launched a coordinated attack on federal police in Michoacan last month, killing at least four officers and wounding at least five more. They also killed one of Mexico's highest-ranking navy officers and a bodyguard last month when they ventured onto a local road in Michoacan to get around highway roadblock.

About the same time, residents in Guerrero were forced to flee their villages because of drug violence and self-defense forces formed in some parts of the state.

Authorities in Guerrero said Saturday that they found 14 bodies, eight in San Miguel Totolapan in the Tierra Caliente and six in a mass grave near the colonial tourist town of Taxco.

The state prosecutor's office said in a statement that five in San Miguel Totolapan were found in the back of a Ford pick-up in military-style dress and with heavy arms and munitions, including a grenade. The statement said three more young men were found shot to death in the same town, but did not specify where.

In Taxco, authorities discovered the remains of six people, the skeletal remains of three and three more in a bad state of decay, according to state government spokesman Jose Villanueva Manzanarez.