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Hundreds flee drug cartel turf battles in rural western Mexico

KIFI

By MARK STEVENSON
Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Gun battles between drug cartels forced about 700 people to flee their rural villages in the western Mexico state of Michoacan, activists and a local priest said Friday.

Rev. Jorge Armando Vázquez said dozens of people are sleeping in the nave of a parish church in the hamlet of El Rosario, on the outskirts of the city of Apatzingan. Hundreds of others are sheltering with local families, after hours-long gun battles chased them from their homes Tuesday.

Jolted awake in the pre-dawn hours by gunfire, they had to wait until daylight to flee to the town of El Rosario. Many are from towns 15 or 20 miles (25 ro 35 kilometers) away.

“So many people came it surprised me,” said Vázquez. “It’s such a sad situation, because I think they need a lot of psychological help, but that help needs to reach them where they are.”

Residents fled from several farm hamlets along Michoacan’s Rio Grande, after bullets hit their homes.

“There have been a series of armed clashes in the area, and during the clashes, a lot of homes have been hit by rounds, with bullet holes in the walls,” said Eduardo Pérez, an activist from Michoacan’s Human Safety Observatory.

The civic group said about about two-thirds of the displaced villagers are children or youths under 18.

The violence is the result of a long-running war between the Jalisco drug cartel and local gangs for control of the area. But the fighting had not previously reached so close to Apatzingan, a regional center for the area’s limes, cattle and other products.

The Rio Grande river — not related to the border river — used to more or less mark the territorial divisions between the Jalisco cartel and rival local gangs variously known as the Viagras, United Cartels or Knights Templar.

But now the battles are reaching closer to Apatzingan.

Vázquez said that the evacuees had received food aid from local residents, but that what the displaced villagers want most is law enforcement, so they can return to their farms.

“It is a question of security. They say that until they put an army checkpoint or some authority there, they cannot return,” he said.

The army has conducted some daylight patrols in the area but return to their bases at night, and villagers say that is not enough.

While there is a barracks of Mexico’s National Guard in El Rosario, where the displaced villagers are sheltering, Vázquez said they have done little.

“They say that unless they have orders to go out (on patrol), some order, they won’t,” he said.

The drug cartel turf wars in Michoacan reached such a height in 2021 that Jalisco and its opponents resorted to bomb-dropping drones, sniper rifles, trenches, homemade armored cars and improvised explosive devices in their pitched battles.

The Mexican army had to send mine removal teams into an area west of Apatzingan to clear the primitive explosives.

Article Topic Follows: AP National

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