MEXICO CITY (AP) - Authorities in northern Mexico will give arms and training to members of an anti-crime group in a Mormon community after two local residents were killed by hitmen with ties to organized crime, residents said Friday.
In a step similar to deputizing local residents, members of the hamlet of Colonia LeBaron say authorities in northern Chihuahua state are helping them create a community police force.
"There are 77 residents of Colonia Lebaron who are willing to participate as community police," Chihuahua state Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez said. "We are taking the necessary steps to make them community police."
"They can work on serious crimes that occur in communities like these and coordinate with the appropriate authorities to investigate," Gonzalez said.
Julian LeBaron, whose brother Benjamin was shot to death Tuesday by gunmen believed to work for the Juarez drug cartel, said the local force is needed because of extortion and kidnapping threats by gangs, and a lack of confidence in local police.
Strict gun-control regulations in Mexico restrict the use of
most weapons mainly to police and soldiers, although powerful weapons have proliferated the country through the drug trafficking business.
"We told the government that we don't trust our local police, because they're always on the payroll of the drug runners," LeBaron said. "They tell us that they'd be willing to train us to train people from our own community so that our cops could be people we could confide in."
No date has been set for creating the force, and state police and soldiers have been dispatched to provide security following the killing of LeBaron and his brother-in-law, Luis Widmar, who helped organize protests against the kidnapping of a community member in May.
"The governor is telling us that he can make it happen if we give him people that know how to use weapons. ... that if they already have a knowledge of how to use weapons that he could train them and give us at least a couple of guys in 30 days," LeBaron said.
Neither Chihuahua state authorities nor the community group has said what kind of weapons the patrols would be given. The killings this week in Colonia LeBaron were carried out by men armed with assault rifles.
Mexico's community police forces exist mainly in rural, isolated Indian towns, and are typically armed with single-shot rifles
The U.S. Embassy said the FBI has offered to assist Mexican authorities in the investigation. Both victims held U.S. and Mexican citizenship.
Benjamin LeBaron has been described as the first anti-crime activist in Mexico killed by hit men in retaliation for his work. His killers left a banner saying his slaying was revenge for the arrests of suspected cartel gunmen.
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