Mexico's government on Saturday began demobilizing a vigilante movement of assault-rifle-wielding ranchers and farmers that had succeeded in largely expelling the Knights Templar cartel from the western state of Michoacan when authorities couldn't.

At a ceremony in the town of Tepalcatepec, where the movement began in February 2013, officials handed out new pistols, rifles, and uniforms to 120 self-defense group members who were sworn in to a new official rural police force.

"Now we are part of the government. Now we can defend ourselves with weapons in a legal way," the movement's spokesman, Estanislao Beltran, said during the ceremony on the grounds of a local ranchers' association. - AP