Ten killed in battles between armed groups in Mexico: reports

MEXICO CITY Sun Apr 28, 2013 10:25pm EDT

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Ten people were reported killed in clashes on Sunday between armed groups in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, which is plagued by battles between rival drug gangs.

Skirmishes broke out in two communities near the town of Apatzingan, a drug gang stronghold, according to local media. State officials could not be immediately reached by Reuters and a federal official could not confirm details of the battles.

The dead were reportedly members of vigilante groups that have recently sprung up in the region, claiming that state and federal police are not protecting them from criminal gangs.

Media reports said groups armed with high-powered rifles and grenades attacked vigilante checkpoints early Sunday.

Michoacan is a major center for methamphetamine production. Rival gangs are fighting over turf as they produce the drug in labs nestled among the poor state's rugged mountains, where marijuana and opium crops are also grown.

The state has been hit by civil unrest this month. Protesters blocked major streets and highways about a week ago in the capital and others cities. The state's governor stepped down this month for health reasons, leaving an interim governor in place.

President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December, has vowed to reduce the violence that has exploded in Mexico in the last decade.

Nearly 70,000 died in gang violence during the last six-year administration and more than 4,200 have died in the first four months of Pena Nieto's term, a slower pace than early 2012.

This year, vigilante groups have popped up in communities across Michoacan, the neighboring state of Guerrero and southern Oaxaca state, saying they are outraged by extortion, kidnapping, theft and violence caused by drug gangs.

A leader of Michoacan's Knights Templar cartel, known for its pseudo-religious rituals and gang rules, surfaced in a video on Saturday, local media reported, accusing vigilante groups in the state of working for a rival drug trafficking group.

In the video, whose authenticity could not be verified by Reuters, a man identified as Knights Templar leader Servando Gomez, known as "La Tuta," accused the armed vigilantes of working for the Jalisco New Generation gang, which is linked to drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa cartel.

(Reporting by Michael O'Boyle; Editing by Stacey Joyce)