MEXICO CITY – A clash between two vigilante "self-defense" groups in the troubled Mexican state of Guerrero killed at least four people and dozens more were taken prisoner by each side, a leader of one of the groups said Tuesday.
Over the last two years vigilantes have brought some peace to the rural area between the resort of Acapulco and the Guerrero state capital of Chilpancingo, a region that had been overrun by bandits and drug gangs. But rivalries have formed between the oldest and largest vigilante group, known as UPOEG, and a smaller group that formed in the town of Tierra Colorada.
UPOEG leader Bruno Placido said one of his group's patrols was attacked Monday near Tierra Colorado, leaving four UPOEG vigilantes dead and 10 wounded.
Placido said UPOEG had captured 32 members of the rival group, FUSDEG, and was willing to release them in return for 40 UPOEG members detained by the rivals. He said the two groups were negotiating a mutual exchange of prisoners.
Cresencio Ramirez, a leader of FUSDEG, disputed Placido's account. He told local media that UPOEG attacked a meeting at which some residents of an outlying hamlet were preparing to join his group. He did not give any details on casualties or prisoners.
The Guerrero state prosecutors' office was not immediately available to confirm the deaths or detentions.
The "self-defense" groups, which rose up in early 2013 to confront the Knights Templar cartel, have been praised by many residents for curbing rampant drug gang violence, but some people now of abuses by the vigilantes.
The unsettled climate in Guerrero, the state where 43 teachers' college students disappeared in September, has raised doubts about whether the state can go ahead with a June 7 elections for governor and mayors. Parents of the missing students have vowed to prevent voting, and a radical teacher group has seized some elections offices.
Federal police announced Tuesday that they will provide protection for four of the candidates for governor and said they were still waiting for a response to the offer of protection from several other parties. One female politician who had planned to run for a mayorship in a nearby town was killed in early March.
Also Tuesday, federal police said they had arrested one of the men suspected in the 2010 slaying of 72 migrants by a drug cartel in northern Mexico. They said Jose Guadalupe Reyes Rivera was detained Monday at a mechanics shop in Ciudad Victoria, capital of the border state of Tamaulipas.
Investigators have said the migrants were killed for refusing to join the Zetas cartel and their bodies were dumped on a ranch in the town of San Fernando in Tamaulipas.
In December, Mexico's national human rights commission criticized the government investigation of the mass killing, saying authorities failed to gather forensic evidence, preserve bodies and perform autopsies on time. Twelve of the dead remain unidentified and are buried in a common grave.