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Mexico president to invest billions in drug cartel stronghold

Mexico's president has unveiled plans to pacify a volatile drug cartel stronghold with billions of dollars in development money. Anti-cartel militias had formed in Michoacan in the absence of state security forces.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto pledged on Tuesday to invest $3.4 billion (2.5 billion euros) to build roads, schools and other infrastructure in the western state of Michoacan, after having already deployed thousands of troops and police to re-establish federal authority there.

Pena Nieto said that the money would help "reverse the conditions of institutional weakness" in the region, which has become a flashpoint in Mexico's bloody war against organized crime. Local residents have formed armed militias to drive out the Knights Templar drug cartel.

In January, the Mexican federal government deployed 9,000 soldiers and police to the region, demanding that the militias disarm. Instead, the militias have agreed to join local police or form "rural defense groups" overseen by the army.

"We have succeeded in winning back the region," said Mexican Interior Minister Angel Osorio Chong in Michoacan's state capital, Morelia, on Tuesday.

The president's security commissioner for Michoacan, Alfred Castillo, said that 523 militia members have signed up for the rural guards and 813 weapons have been registered. Meanwhile, 334 people have been detained for allegedly committing crimes, including 128 cartel members, according to Castillo.

"The power of organized crime will be broken once and for all," he said.

slk/jm (AFP, dpa)