Mexico: Michoacán tipping into war

At least 15 were killed April 10 in a series of confrontations in Mexico's increasingly conflicted Michoacán state. The first confrontation began when federal police aboard a helicopter spotted armed men traveling in four vehicles at Charapando in the muncipality of Gabriel Zamora. The gunmen opened fire on the agents, who shot back and killed five, a police statement said, adding that one of those killed was high in the leadership structure of a local drug cartel, which was not named. Two police agents were reported wounded. Hours later in the town of Apatzingan, federal agents were accompanying a procession commemorating the anniversary of the death of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata when gunmen opened fire with AK-47s. Police returned fire, killing one. Another eight were killed elsewhere in Apatzingán, when gunmen attacked a police checkpoint where trucks full of harvested lime were backed up; two police were injured, but the dead were all civilians. Schools in Apatzingán and Buenavista Tomatlán municipalities have been closed due to the violence.

In another confrontation in Múgica municipality, gunmen killed a member of the "community police" from the neighboring pueblo of Buenavista Tomatlán. Last month, the "community police," a citizen's self-defense patrol, seized the public buildings in Buenavista Tomatlán, charging that the town's "official" authorities were in league with criminal gangs.

A final confrontation was reported in Uruapan, where there were no casualties, but a supposed gang boss identified as Omar Alejandro Mendoza Camacho was arrested. The criminal organization he is affiliated with was not named, but the Knights Templar and Familia Michoacana have been waging a bloody turf war over control of the state's narco networks. The Knights Templar had recently issued a warning to lime growers in the Tierra Caliente region of the state to cease shipping their product, apparently considering them to be in league with either the Familia or the authorities.

Ironically, the clashes took place just as the Mexican government announced drug-related killings from December through March had dropped 14% compared to the same period a year earlier. The interior secretariat, Gobernación, said 4,249 were killed during the first four months of President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration, while 4,934 were killed between December 2011 and March 2012. But Gobernación secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said it was "too early to assume victorious attitudes." (AP, AFP, Excelsior, UnivisionProvincia, Michoacán, April 11; Notimex, Milenio,