CUATRO CAMINOS, Mexico (AFP) - Deadly armed clashes erupted on Tuesday when Mexican soldiers attempted to disarm civilian vigilantes who had refused to abandon an armed struggle against a drug cartel.
The Michoacan state prosecutor's office confirmed that one person was shot dead but militias said four people died in confrontations in a western region known as Tierra Caliente, or Hot Country.
The clashes after the federal government decided to take control of security in Michoacan State, telling civilians to lay down their arms after a nearly year-long battle with the Knights Templar cartel.
Unrest in the agricultural state has become the biggest security challenge for President Enrique Pena Nieto's 13-month-old administration, undermining his pledge to reduce drug violence.
Vigilante spokesman Estanislao Beltran said a military convoy arrived in the community of Cuatro Caminos on Tuesday to seize weapons, one day after the militia routed gangsters from the area.
Residents blocked the road in protest to demand that the soldiers return the guns to the militia, he said.
"During this struggle a soldier fired and killed two vigilantes on the spot," Beltran said.
Two other people, including an 11-year-old girl, were also hit and died on their way to a hospital, he said, adding that he witnessed the shooting.
"We will never give up our weapons," Beltran insisted.
Civilians first took up arms in February 2013 to oust the Templars from the region, saying local police were either colluding with gangs or unable to deal with the violence and extortion rackets.
Since then, officials have alleged that at least some civilian militias were backed by a cartel while analysts say the government was all too happy letting the vigilantes police the state.