Mexican Town Besieged by Rival Gangs, as Police and Army Stand Aside

Deborah Bonello, Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2015

They arrived carrying rifles, machetes and sticks, their faces covered with ski masks and scarves.

About 300 armed civilians poured into the small town of Chilapa, in the troubled state of Guerrero, on the afternoon of May 9, a Saturday, hitting people and breaking into their houses in a seemingly systematic rampage.

Behind them came white pickup trucks loaded with young men sporting high-caliber weapons. Cellphone video taken by residents shows armed people in civilian clothing threatening people on the streets.

“At first we thought that they might be community police,” said Felipe Nava Reyes, 24, a truck driver who was in the center of town when they arrived. Community police and self-defense teams are common in Guerrero and the neighboring state of Michoacan.

“But then on Sunday, they started to take people.”

The armed men and women who rode into town that Saturday were members of a criminal gang known as Los Ardillos, or the Squirrels. What unfolded over the next five days was a narco standoff between them and a rival drug gang, Los Rojos, or the Reds, that usually controls Chilapa, according to witnesses, social media and local news reports.

As so often happens in Mexico, the ordinary residents of the town were caught in the middle.

{snip}

By the time the outsiders left on Thursday, at least 16 people, all of them male and aged 14 to 30, were taken from the streets of Chilapa, according to families of the missing.

But residents believe that nearly twice that number may have disappeared and that their families have been too fearful to report them missing. {snip}

Chilapa was locked down for five days by its occupiers despite the presence of the Mexican army, the gendarmerie (a national elite police force) and municipal and state forces, none of which intervened. Cellphone video shows residents admonishing soldiers for just standing around, and residents said that when they asked soldiers and police to act, they were told that the forces were under orders to just observe.

Schools and businesses were closed, and the town’s famous Sunday market didn’t open. The mayor fled.

{snip}

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