LA RUANA, Mexico (AP) — Residents of a western Mexico area who endured months besieged by a drug cartel cheered the arrival of hundreds of Mexican soldiers Monday.
People in La Ruana in Michoacan state lined the main road to greet more than a dozen troop transports and heavily armed Humvees with applause and shouts of joy.
The town's supplies had been blocked after the Knights Templars cartel declared war on the hamlet. The cartel dominates much of the state, demanding extortion payments from businessmen and storeowners, and even low-wage workers.
In February, the town formed self-defense squads to kick the cartel out, drawing the wrath of the gang. Convoys of cartel gunmen attacked the town, which was forced to throw up stone barricades and build guard posts.
Supplies like gasoline, milk and cooking gas began to run low as cartel gunmen threatened to burn any trucks bringing in goods.
On Monday, hundreds of soldiers moved in, erecting checkpoints on the highway leading into La Ruana and setting up an operating base in the town.
"This war has been won!" Hipolito Mora, leader of the self-defense movement, told hundreds of cheering townspeople gathered along the main road, including dozens of self-defense patrol members wearing white T-shirts and carrying shotguns.
Mora said the town had agreed to stop community patrols and let the army take over security in La Ruana. But he said the community would keep its weapons and would start patrols again if the army left.
The idea that troops might come in and seize a town's weapons, or stay only a few weeks, worried people throughout the crime-ridden area. So in town after town along the main highway through Michoacan's hot lowlands known as the Tierra Caliente, self-defense squads welcomed the army's arrival, but vowed to keep their guns.
The highway is littered with the charred hulks of supply trucks, the smoking remains of burned-out sawmills and the fire-blackened walls of fruit warehouses set afire by the Knights Templars cartel in retaliation for the towns' rebellion.