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Seven dead as gunmen, police clash in Mexico

17 June 2015, 10:59

Morelia, Mexico-Gunmen opened fire on a police convoy and torched vehicles in western Mexico on Tuesday in violence that left two officers and five civilians dead, authorities said.

Five other police officers were wounded and another went missing in the confrontation on a road on the outskirts of Apatzingan, the state prosecutor's office said in a statement.

The police force was on patrol "when they faced a group of people who fired their weapons in an aggression that was repelled" and left two officers dead on the spot, the statement said.

The unknown assailants returned hours later to set fire to two police vehicles and a small truck, in which the charred bodies of two civilians were found, prosecutors said.

Two more bodies with bullet wounds were found in a trailer truck and another victim was inside a third truck. The assailants had poured gasoline on the two vehicles.

Police and soldiers were searching for the missing officer.

Apatzingan is a former bastion of the Knights Templar drug cartel, a gang that terrorized Michoacan state for years until farmers formed self-defense militias in 2013.

The government deployed a special operation to combat the cartel, leading to the capture of its top leaders.

The vigilantes were deputized into a "rural force" and given weapons by the government last year, but the militias have been mired by rivalries and mutual accusations of criminal connections.

"Things aren't good," Apatzingan's interim mayor Alejandro Villanueva told Radio Formula, adding that criminals are teaming up and fighting over territory of the Knights Templar.

On January 6, federal police launched an operation to remove a group that occupied Apatzingan's city hall in protest over the dismantling of their self-defense force.

Authorities said nine people died in the crossfire when civilians fired at police.

But prosecutors and the federal police's internal affairs unit are investigating media reports that officers killed 16 unarmed civilians that day.

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