Residents flee another western Mexico town amid gang fights

National News

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Residents of yet another township in western Mexico have begun fleeing, after they were caught in the crossfire of turf battles between rival drug cartels.

A former mayor said Friday the town of Coalcoman has essentially been cut off by road. The parish priest of Coalcoman said in a letter Wednesday that roads had been cut and townspeople had trouble getting supplies.

Local media posted photos of dozens of townspeople walking down dirt roads dragging suitcases.

The scene in Coalcoman, in the western state of Michoacan, is similar to what happened in the neighboring township of Aguililla earlier this year. The Jalisco cartel is fighting the rival United Cartels for control of the area. The logging town of Coalcoman is larger than the mining town of Aguililla.

“We are living a situation similar to that of Aguililla,” wrote Rev. Jorge Luis Martinez. “People are living in uncertainty because of the violence, the burning of cars, highway blockades, killings everywhere, forced displacement.”

Martinez described an almost medieval type of war between the rival gangs, in which they dug trenches across roads and took down communications services. The United Cartels — led by a gang known as the Viagras — are using scorched-earth tactics to prevent the Jalisco cartel from moving further across the border into Michoacan.

Martinez noted “the destruction of the highway into Michoacan, the destruction of telephone lines, little access to the internet, constantly surrounded by armed men.”

Calls to Martinez’ parish did not go through.

Misael González, a former mayor who left Coalcoman after attacks on his home, said since then “it has been getting worse and worse and worse. For the last eight or ten days, there has been no (road) access to Coalcoman.”

As in Aguillila — where residents had trouble even getting people out for medical treatment — residents in Coalcoman say the army and police have done little to help them.

“The incredible thing is that they (residents) went to the military base and they (soldiers) said they were waiting for orders from their superiors,” Rev. Martinez wrote. “Yes, there is a military base with hundreds of soldiers who ”wait for orders” while we are being destroyed.”

The Defense Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In April, drug cartels attacked state police near Aguililla with explosive drones. Two officers were treated and released from a hospital. Authorities have not described the devices in detail. Local media reported the drones carried hand grenades, but photos have circulated of drones carrying taped packs of explosive charges.

While police and troops have been dispatched to Aguililla, the cartels responded by parking hijacked trucks across roads to block them, as well as digging deep trenches across roadways. Protesters in Aguililla have at times ringed the local military base, at one point forcing soldiers out.

Protesters in other parts of Mexico have been pushing around soldiers, disarming them and even briefly kidnapping them, after López Obrador ordered the army not to react in such incidents.

Turf battles between Jalisco and rivals, including the Sinaloa cartel, have spread across Mexico in recent years.

On Thursday, police in the northern state of Zacatecas said they found the bodies of four men hung from a highway overpass near the state capital, and two more bodies that had apparently been hung but had fallen on the roadway.

Jalisco and allied gangs are fighting Sinaloa and its allies for control in the area.

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