Some 1,500 people in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero fled their homes during and after the armed clash between civilian self defense members and presumed criminals that left seven people dead on the weekend, local residents told EFE on Tuesday.
Dozens of families in eight communities in one of Mexico's most violent states have abandoned the towns of Leonardo Bravo and Eduardo Neri, some on foot and some by vehicle.
About 3,000 members of the self defense group known as the Guerrero State Community Police Front (FPCEG) moved into the community of Filo de Caballos on Sunday to take control of local security after organized criminal groups had ensconced themselves there and were exploiting the local population.
The criminals met the FPCEG with gunfire, sparking an hours-long shootout in which seven presumed criminals were killed.
Domitila, a local resident, told EFE that a neighborhood meeting was under way in Filo de Caballos and when it ended people noticed that a large group of unknown armed men - the FPCEG members - were arriving in the area, and shortly thereafter the shootout broke out.
She said that residents fled amid the crossfire and she was able to get out of the area with her mother and children but wasn't able to take any of her belongings, adding that her 93-year-old father remained in the town and she has had no news of him since then.
That is why, Domitila said, that she and other residents called on the state government to intervene to end the violence in the area.
"I've been here for 53 years. I live here, I was born here and nothing like this has ever happened," said Maria de la Luz, another resident who fled her home.
Yet another local resident said that he fled to a local church, where he took shelter in the basement with 16 children until the shootout was over, adding that while the gunfire was going on local homes were looted by the so-called community police.
Among the displaced people is Crescencio Pacheco, the former coordinator of the Citizens Police in Leonardo Bravo, who said that the so-called community police of the FPCEG are "disguised criminals."
He said that the incursion by the FPCEG could be in support of mining interests in the nearby mountains, where in 2014 gold and silver were discovered near the town of Xochipala.
"We want to live in peace and I'm not asking the governor to bring us mattresses, blankets or food. I'm asking him to give us back our homes. We want to live on our land," Pacheco said.
Leonardo Bravo Mayor Ismael Castulo on Tuesday issued a call to national and international human rights organizations to examine the local situation.
"I'm raising my voice before something more serious happens because if (the community police) move in here, they won't be welcomed because we didn't like the way they came in, stealing cars, TVs. That's not going to happen in Leonardo Bravo; we're not going to allow it," he warned.