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Vigilantes Battle Cartels in Impoverished Mexico

Alan Ortega / Reuters

Vigilantes stand guard after hearing rumours of a possible ambush in Tierra Caliente earlier this year during their ongoing battle with area cartels.

In violence-racked Michoacan "Self-defense" groups began springing up almost a year ago to fight the Knights Templar cartel, which ruled many parts of Mexico's impoverished agricultural state, with an iron fist, demanding extortion payments from businesses, farmers and workers.

Civilian forces, who estimate their numbers at 20,000 men under arms, have agreed to join government law enforcement forces after months of firefights with gang members, often with federal police and troops standing by.

Image: Members of the community police, acting in this case as vigilantes
Members of the community police, acting as vigilantes, stand together after breaking into and taking over the village of Paracuaro in Michoacan state on Jan. 4. JORGE DAN LOPEZ / Reuters
Image: Vigilante
A vigilante known as El Love looks at several mobile phones while sitting in the living room of the house of a top leader of the Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar, in Nueva Italia on Jan. 16. JORGE DAN LOPEZ / Reuters