Mexico changes tack on vigilante groups
January 28, 2014 -- Updated 1410 GMT (2210 HKT)
An armed resident in Xaltianguis, Acapulco municipality, on April 2, 2013, in the southwestern State of Guerrero, Mexico.
- Mexico says vigilante groups will have a path to become institutionalized
- It is a change from an original order for the groups to lay down their arms
- Certain criteria must be met for fighters to join the government
- One high-ranking cartel leader was arrested Monday
(CNN) -- In a sudden turnaround this week, the Mexican government will provide vigilante groups fighting a drug cartel in western Mexico a path to become recognized, moving away from earlier calls for the groups to disarm.
The state of Michoacan, long a flashpoint in Mexico's drug war, has of late been the scene of fighting between a cartel calling itself the Knights Templar and so-called "auto-defense" groups that have armed themselves and patrolled the streets.
The vigilante groups grew from complaints that the government was not doing enough to protect citizens from the drug cartel. The government acted this month, sending federal forces to the region and ordering the vigilante groups to lay down their weapons.
But Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto appears to have abandoned that call, and instead announced a plan wherein the vigilante forces -- if they meet certain criteria -- can become part of a government-sanctioned Rural Defense Corps.
Vigilantes clash with Mexican cartels
Those members of the auto-defense forces who want to be part of the government forces will be required to pass all the tests that other Mexican law enforcement does, Peña Nieto said.
"The government is obligated to provide peace and tranquility to Michoacan, that is what the majority wants," one of the president's supporters, lawmaker Emilio Gamboa Patron, told the state-run Notimex news agency. "The grand majority does not want to live in violence."
The about-face comes as officials said they arrested a high-ranking leader of the Knights Templar.
Dionisio Loya Plancarte was arrested in Morelia, Michoacan's capital, on Monday morning by federal forces, the executive secretary of the National System of Public Security, Monte Alejandro Rubido, said.
Loya Plancarte was a major drug trafficking figure in Morelia, the official said.
He is known for distributing videos online that reported on cartel activity and threatened other criminal organizations, Rubido said.
A 16-year-old minor was apprehended along with the drug cartel figure, Rubido said.
READ: Mexican forces struggle to rein in armed vigilantes battling drug cartel
READ: Fast and Furious gun turns up after Mexican resort shootout
CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet and CNNMexico contributed to this report.
Today's five most popular stories
Part of complete coverage on
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0102 GMT (0902 HKT)
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 0333 GMT (1133 HKT)
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1607 GMT (0007 HKT)
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1748 GMT (0148 HKT)
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 0959 GMT (1759 HKT)
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
With so many new attractions on the way, the next few years are going to be a roller coaster ride.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
Thomas Malthus famously predicted that rising populations would create a food crunch: Could this be true?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0945 GMT (1745 HKT)
The lives of everyone close to Oscar Pistorius and the girl he killed are changed forever, his siblings say.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1402 GMT (2202 HKT)
Gene Simmons reflects on 40 years of KISS, and how even rock royalty needs sound business principles.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1033 GMT (1833 HKT)
From "Sick Man of Europe" to the world's fourth largest economy.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 0915 GMT (1715 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.