MORELIA, Mexico – Eight Indians died in a shootout triggered by a dispute over forests in Cheran, a rebel city in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, state officials said.
The shootout started Wednesday morning when some Purepecha Indians, the majority Indian group in Michoacan, were on patrol to prevent illegal cutting of pine and oak trees in the community of El Puerto.
Two Indians were killed and several others wounded by illegal loggers from El Cerecito, a town near Cheran, who opened fire on them with assault rifles.
Another group of Indians headed into the forest and engaged the illegal loggers in a shootout, killing six of them, including two who were found by police inside a burning SUV.
Investigators were not able to enter the area until they received permission from Indian leaders in Cheran, which has been barricaded for the past year to protect residents from organized crime groups, state police said.
Cheran, where some 4,500 Indians live, is located 123 kilometers (76 miles) from Morelia, the capital of Michoacan.
The community is in the heart of the Meseta Purepecha, where Indians announced last year that they would no longer recognize the federal, state and municipal governments because officials could not protect their forests from the illegal loggers who work with organized crime groups.
The community also opposed the Nov. 13 gubernatorial, municipal and legislative elections, stating that the Cheran High Council would govern based on Purepecha “uses and customs.”
The Purepecha community, moreover, plans to ban voting in the presidential election on July 1, when Mexicans will select President Felipe Calderon’s successor.
The Indians, who do not recognize the illegal loggers as members of their tribe because of the damage they have done to the forests, have set up checkpoints at Cheran’s five entrances, even keeping out the police.
State officials are working closely with the Cheran High Council, offering guarantees that they will uphold the law and protect residents of the region, the Michoacan state government said.