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May 29, 2017

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Mexican troops in deadly clash with vigilantes

APATZINGAN, Mexico--Mexican federal forces launched an offensive Tuesday to take over security in a violence-torn western state, seizing a drug cartel's bastion and clashing with vigilantes who refused to disarm.

A convoy of 200 military and federal police forces rumbled into Apatzingan and disarmed municipal police officers in the city, which is known as a stronghold of the Knights Templar gang in Michoacan state.

The turmoil in Michoacan has become the biggest security challenge for President Enrique Pena Nieto's 13-month-old administration, undermining his pledge to reduce drug violence.

Hours earlier, soldiers arrived in towns held by vigilantes who have battled the cartel for the past year, leading to a confrontation which the civilian militia said killed four people, including a child.

The federal show of force in Michoacan's rural region known as Tierra Caliente, or Hot Country, came a day after the government urged vigilantes to lay down their arms, saying it would take over security.

After the display of government force, a spokesman for the vigilantes, Hipolito Mora, said his people would not seize more towns.

He said after a meeting with Mexican authorities that his forces felt more secure after the government action. But he made no mention of the vigilantes laying down arms.

Until now the vigilantes have said they would not do this until drug cartel leaders were captured.

Another spokesman for the vigilantes, Estanislao Beltran, said he would not comment on the results of the meeting with Mexican authorities until he discussed it with colleagues.

The military deployment was ordered Monday after the vigilantes seized more towns and surrounded Apatzingan, raising fears of urban warfare in the city of 123,000 people.

Early Tuesday, a military convoy arrived in the community of Cuatro Caminos to seize weapons from vigilantes who had routed gangsters from the area, Beltran told AFP.

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