January 18, 2014 / 3:33 AM / 7 years ago

Mexico replaces top security officials in troubled state

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican officials on Friday said top security officials would be replaced in a western state that has been shaken by conflict between a powerful drug gang and heavily armed vigilantes.

Jose Manuel Mireles (C), head of Michoacan state's community police, stands with vigilantes in Churumuco in Michoacan state December 29, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez

Michoacan Governor Fausto Vallejo told reporters that he had named a new state attorney general and also announced new top officials for regional prosecutors offices. Top police officials were also replaced.

The government this week stepped up efforts to restore order in the poor, rural state of Michoacan, where violence has stained the security record of President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office at the end of 2012.

Violence in Michoacan has stoked concerns about President Pena Nieto’s ability to maintain order one year into his term. Spooked investors drove the peso to a 3-1/2 month low this week.

Large swathes of the state have been under the control of the Knights Templar drug cartel, but earlier this month, local vigilante groups began occupying much of the gang’s heartland.

Masked, armed groups arose in Michoacan last year, saying the government was failing to protect citizens from extortions, kidnappings and killings by drug gangs.

Vigilante groups have claimed that local officials are in league with traffickers, but some have accused the heavily armed masked groups of having ties to a rival cartel.

Jose Godoy, who was an official in the federal attorney general’s office, will replace Marco Aguilera as the new state attorney general, Vallejo said. Aguilera had served in the post since July, when a previous state attorney general resigned.

Carlos Castellanos, who was an official in the federal consumer protection agency, was named to replace Alberto Reyes as head of police forces. Pena Nieto put Reyes, a general, in charge of all police and military operations in Michoacan last May as the vigilante problem began to deepen.

This week, Alfredo Castillo, a close ally of Pena Nieto, was named as federal government commissioner for Michoacan. Castillo insisted on Friday that Vallejo was still in charge and that he was just a representative of the federal government.

Local media has reported the federal government is effectively making major decisions in the state.

More than 80,000 people have died in gang-related violence since former President Felipe Calderon launched his military offensive against drug cartels in Michoacan seven years ago.

Homicides have dipped overall in Mexico under Pena Nieto, but Michoacan’s murder rate has nearly doubled since 2006 as traffickers increasingly turned from marijuana plantations to producing methamphetamine in crude labs hidden in the state’s mountains and avocado groves.

Reporting by Michael O'Boyle; Editing by Ken Wills

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