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The country of Mexico has been a de facto narco-state for years, as competing drug cartels bought off the police, judges, local officials and journalists they could, killed those they could not, and battled each other for turf. Throughout it all, the collateral damage has been heavy; in the past decade alone, tens of thousands have died, including scores of civilians, though the exact number is unknown because authorities say they are sure all of the victims have yet to be discovered.

Such carnage has frozen many Mexican towns in fear, but some – finally – are beginning to fight back. One of them, Tierra Colorado – a city of about 20,000 located in the state of Guerrero, in southwester Mexico – has formed its own “vigilante” group, to battle the cartels as well as the police they have corrupted.

The self-described “community police” force of about 1,500 took over recently and arrested police officers there after their “commander” was killed and his body dumped in the street, various reports said.

The vigilantes arrested 12 officers and the town’s one-time director of public security, each of whom they accused of having a role in the killing of Guadalupe Quinones Carbajal, 28, at the behest of a local drug cartel.

‘We have besieged the municipality’

In addition, the group has set up improvised checkpoints on the major highway running through the town, a road that connects the capital of Mexico City with the popular resort city of Acapulco, which is fewer than 40 miles away.

In fact, Britain’s Daily Mail reported, a tourist heading to the nearby beaches with relatives for the Easter weekend was injured March 26 when some of the vigilantes fired on his vehicle after he refused to stop at a roadblock.

The Tierra Colorado vigilante group has taken over security duties as a movement by other “self defense” groups in the region in a bid to fight back against the powerful drug cartels. Some 2,000 civilians are thought to have fled the town since the takeover, likely fearing additional violence from the inevitable clashes between vigilantes and those loyal to the cartels.