MORELIA, Mexico – Vigilantes in a town in the western Mexican state of Michoacan handed over weapons to prosecutors investigating the murders of two people last weekend, officials and community leaders said Thursday.
About 50 members of the community self-defense group in La Ruana turned their weapons over to prosecutors, a community leader told Efe.
Hipolito Mora, the leader of the vigilante group formed more than a year ago in La Ruana to fight the Caballeros Templarios drug cartel, was arrested Tuesday night in connection with the murders of Rafael Sanchez Moreno and his driver, Jose Luis Torres Castañeda.
The burned bodies of Sanchez Moreno and Torres Castañeda were found last Saturday in Buenavista, a town near La Ruana.
The 58-year-old Mora, a lemon grower in La Ruana, formed the first community self-defense organization in the Tierra Caliente region in February 2013.
The region was largely under the control of the Caballeros Templarios cartel until the federal government deployed the security forces in the area earlier this year to fight crime.
About 50 of Mora’s supporters surrendered their weapons to investigators, the community leader said.
The group is now at the mercy of the leader of the vigilante organization in Buenavista, Luis Antonio Torres, who allegedly has links to the Caballeros Templarios, the community leader said.
Torres accused Mora of being involved in the double-murder and led his followers to La Ruana to find the killers.
Mora’s supporters allege that Torres is surrounded by the hitmen expelled from La Ruana on Feb. 24, 2013, when the first vigilante group was formed to fight the cartel.
The hitmen are seeking revenge on the people of La Ruana, residents said.
Mora has entered a plea of not guilty with prosecutors, who have until Thursday night to gather evidence to charge him as an accessory to murder before a judge, defense attorney Eduardo Quintero Madrigal said.
Vigilante groups have spread across Michoacan, which has been plagued by drug-related violence blamed on the Caballeros Templarios.
La Ruana and Buenavista are in the Tierra Caliente region, which takes its name from the high temperatures in the area and straddles Michoacan, Guerrero and Mexico states.
The worst confrontation between vigilante groups since their formation occurred on Monday, when Torres’s group tried to occupy La Ruana.
Hundreds of supporters of the two vigilante leaders faced off at the entrance to La Ruana.
Army troops and Federal Police officers were deployed in the town on Tuesday to maintain order and prevent an escalation of violence.
The federal government deployed soldiers and police in Michoacan on Jan. 13 in an effort to end the wave of drug-related violence in the state.