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Members of Pueblos Unidos Members of Pueblos Unidos, farmers who have vowed to defend themselves against organized crime.

Michoacán plans operation against crime gangs in 4 municipalities

But local farmers, who have taken up arms in defense, must lay down their weapons

Michoacán authorities are planning a joint operation with the army to combat organized crime in four municipalities where avocado and blackberry producers have armed themselves in defense, according to the state security minister.

Some 3,000 farmers and farmhands from Salvador Escalante, Ario de Rosales, Nuevo Urecho and Taretán have taken up arms over the past eight months amid attacks by criminal organizations and extortion, the newspaper Milenio reported lat Friday.

Given that Michoacán police and the army intend to deploy to the municipalities, the farmers must lay down their weapons, Security Minister Israel Patrón said. They will be forcibly disarmed if they refuse, he said, adding that they are “flagrantly” violating the law.

Patrón acknowledged that armed men are manning roadblocks designed to keep criminals out of the four municipalities but denied that they number 3,000.

The security minister claimed that not all members of the armed group – called Pueblos Unidos, or United Towns — have genuine interests, suggesting that the group could be “contaminated” by criminals.

He didn’t provide specific details about the planned security operation, such as the number of soldiers and police that will deployed or when it would begin.

A Pueblos Unidos commander told Milenio that farmers would be prepared to disarm if authorities were able to guarantee their security. If the authorities can’t do that, the producers should be given permission to legally bear arms, he said.

“They should give us permission to defend ourselves,” the commander said. “We also don’t want to be disarmed, and we want to be respected. … They should do the work we’re doing, and maybe we’ll withdraw.”

Meanwhile, the federal government’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) has blocked the bank accounts of 153 members and collaborators of six cartels that operate in Michoacán, UIF chief Santiago Nieto announced on Twitter.

Citing authorities close to the investigations, Milenio reported that the 153 people were members of or had links to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the Caballeros Templarios (Knight’s Templar Cartel), the Familia Michoacana, the Viagras, Cárteles Unidos and a cell of the Beltrán Leyva organization known as El Independiente.

With reports from Milenio 

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