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Mexican ‘civilians’ kidnap soldiers to get confiscated guns back (VIDEOS)

Mexican ‘civilians’ kidnap soldiers to get confiscated guns back (VIDEOS)
An incident in the Mexican state of Michoacan, where a group of civilians held a squad of soldiers captive and demanded the return of seized weapons, has sparked national debate, with top politicians expressing opposing opinions.

The tense standoff took place in the municipality of La Huacana, located in the west of the troubled federal state last week. Following a confrontation between the military and unidentified gunmen, the soldiers captured a vehicle and a number of guns. Two civilians, including a minor, were injured by stray bullets during the shootout.

At that point, a mob of civilians surrounded the soldiers, stripped them of weapons and gear, and demanded the return of the weapons and the vehicle.

One video that recently emerged shows soldiers putting up little or no resistance. Other videos show a civilian forcing a soldier to call his superiors and negotiate for the squad’s safe return. 

The Mexican military eventually agreed to exchange the seized hardware for the soldiers, citing the desire to avoid further hostilities and loss of life.

Criminals or 'self-defense' forces?

The incident sparked debate across Mexico, with sharply opposing opinions. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador praised the soldiers, calling their (in)action "brave" and responsible, since "abusing our fellow people" is "cowardice." At the same time, he admitted the soldiers got themselves into a "difficult" situation. Former president Felipe Calderon, however, called the whole situation unacceptable, stating that the "military also has human rights." The standing presidential orders for the military to not respond to aggressive actions of civilian mobs have to be changed, he argued.

Complicating the situation, the identity of gunmen who prompted the incident remained unclear. While some reports claimed they were members of a drug cartel, others suggested they were actually members of the so-called Autodefensas, a local vigilante militia. The military only described the gunmen as "criminals." 

Armed civilian groups have emerged in Mexico in the last decade, during a particularly violent phase of the drug war between the government and narco cartels. The state of Michoacan was the first to have such groups, who were supposed to keep both cartel militants – and, sometimes, the government too – away from local communities.

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A former leader of the Autodefensas movement, Jose Manuel Mireles, also weighed in on the incident, rejecting the depiction of the vigilante groups as "criminals." Mireles, who spent several years in prison as the government tried to curb the activities of the vigilantes, warned the government against disturbing the "peace" of the community and focus on other localities plagued with murders, kidnappings and dismemberments.

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