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Mexico Forces Clash with Community Self--Defense Groups in Michoacan

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ANTUNEZ, Mexico (AP) - The Mexican government moved in to quell violence between vigilantes and a drug cartel, and witnesses say several unarmed civilians were killed in an early Tuesday confrontation.

There were widely varying reports of casualties, but Associated Press journalists saw two bodies and spoke to the family of a third person who was reportedly killed. None were women or children, contrary to earlier reports by the spokesman of a self-defense group.

The Attorney General's Office said it could not confirm a number of dead. The Interior Ministry said it had no information about reports that soldiers had fired on an unarmed crowd.

"This is how they plan to protect the community? We don't want them," said Gloria Perez Torres, grieving over the body of her brother, Mario, 56, one of the dead.

Antunez was calm again Tuesday, and self-defense groups remained armed and in control.

The government sent more troops and federal police late Monday to retake an area known as the Tierra Caliente after days of violence between the vigilantes and the Knights Templar cartel. Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong urged the vigilantes to put down their arms and return to their home communities, saying the government would not tolerate anyone breaking the law.

The confrontation started late Monday night in the town of Antunez, which was taken over by the vigilantes in the last several days. Townspeople were called to meet a convoy of soldiers who they were told were coming to disarm the self-defense group. Witnesses said the civilian group did not carry guns, but as they blocked the military convoy, some soldiers fired into the crowd.

"They opened fire on civilians. How it that justified?" Defense group spokesman Estanislao Beltran told MVS radio. He told The Associated Press that only one of the dead was a self-defense group member.