MEXICO CITY -- Armed vigilantes in southern Mexico engaged in a shootout Wednesday with a group of men they described as criminals, killing one in what appeared to be the first death related to the month-and-a-half-old "self-defence" movement.
The confrontation near the town of Ayutla raised the stakes in a growing movement that has seen residents of several towns arm themselves with a motley assortment of old hunting rifles, shotguns and pistols while conducting patrols and manning checkpoints to fight crime spawned by drug cartels.
Bruno Placido, leader of the vigilante movement in the southern state of Guerrero, said one of the civilian patrols caught sight of a group of armed men, who opened fire on the patrol.
"There was one killed on the side of the criminals," he said.
The masked vigilantes frequently stop passing motorists to search for weapons or people whose names are on handwritten lists of "suspects" wanted for crimes such as theft and extortion. The vigilantes have opened fire before on motorists who refused to stop, slightly wounding a pair of tourists from Mexico City visiting a local beach in early February.
While local media have reported self-defence groups have spread to 36 communities in eight states, that may exaggerate their numbers. For example, assistants to the mayors of two towns in the State of Mexico, next to Mexico City, where self-defence groups had reportedly formed, denied any vigilante committees existed in their towns.
-- The Associated Press