Mexican police waged a gunfight Thursday with rural vigilantes in a poor state plagued by drug cartels, leaving eight people dead, officials said.
The vigilantes, known as "community police", took up arms in several mountain villages and along the coast of southern Guerrero state in 2013, alleging that authorities were doing nothing to protect them against cartels that carried out extortion, kidnappings and killings in the state.
Guerrero is one of Mexico's poorest states, mired in myriad social conflicts, and the state in which 43 students disappeared last September in a massacre that outraged the country.
In Thursday's clash in the area of Igualapa, police tried to stop a pickup truck carrying members of one of these rural policing units.
The vehicle did not stop, and the men in it opened fire on police, triggering a gunfight that lasted 12 minutes, the secretariat of state for public security said.
Six of the vigilantes and two police officers were killed, a secretariat official said. Several other vigilantes managed to flee, while a police commander was seriously wounded.
The disappearance of the students in Guerrero struck a chord of anger in a nation painfully accustomed to drug related violence, which has left some 80,000 dead since 2006.
Mexican officials say the students were detained by police on the orders of a local politician and handed over to a drug cartel, which killed them and burned the bodies.
In response to a domestic and international outcry over the massacre, Mexico's Congress late Thursday gave final approval to a constitutional reform allowing lawmakers to toughen penalties against crimes such as kidnapping and torture.