MEXICO CITY–Mexican troops on Monday seized a high-ranking leader of the Knights Templar drug cartel, blamed for much of the crime in troubled Michoacan state, prosecutors said. Dionicio Loya Plancarte, alias “El Tmo” (“Uncle”), was arrested in Morelia, a prosecutors’ office official told AFP. He was found in a Morelia home, hiding in a closet, authorities said. Groups of civilian vigilantes had been demanding federal authorities arrest him as a condition for laying down their own arms. Federal forces have moved into Michoacan, in western Mexico, in recent weeks to disarm vigilantes and flush out the Knights Templar gang, which controls large areas of the state. Self-defense groups of farmers and other local people first took up arms in February 2013 to oust the cartel, claiming local police were either colluding with the gang or unable to stop its violence, kidnapping and extortion rackets. Poverty-stricken Michoacan has become the most pressing security issue facing Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto.
He inherited a bloody war on drugs from his predecessor in 2012 that has left more than 77,000 people dead since 2006. The government, which earlier had asked vigilantes all to lay down their arms in Michoacan, changed its tack on Monday. It now has decided some self-defense units would be brought under the government umbrella as “Rural Defense Units,” the Interior Ministry said. It said that self-defense units are required to register their weapons. And its arrangement with now former vigilantes was on just eight towns, the ministry added. Other vigilantes are not included at this time, and as such as required to disarm.
The government desperately needs the support of the vigilantes and does not want to be in the position of having to disarm those who it sees as essentially fighting a common enemy. But the situation puts an embarrassing spotlight on how huge areas, in real life, are not effectively policed or protected by either local police, state police, federal police or federal troops.