Mexican authorities found the charred remains of five people inside an SUV parked on a rural road in the western state of Michoacan, officials told Efe.
The state Attorney General’s Office said in a statement Thursday that the five corpses correspond to suspected drug cartel hit men killed during an hour-long turf battle between rival gangs in the Tierra Caliente region.
It said the gunmen exchanged fire and hurled grenades during Thursday morning’s clash in the impoverished, crime-ridden town of Tiquicheo, located some 95 kilometers (60 miles) from the state capital of Morelia.
The state AG’s office said the clash involved members of the La Familia Michoacana and Los Caballeros Templarios drug mobs, which are battling for control of Michoacan.
After the clash, authorities found a torched SUV with the completely charred bodies of the suspected cartel gunmen.
Forensic experts collected spent shell casings from assault rifles and grenade fragments at the scene of the fighting, while authorities were still working to identify the bodies.
Drug-related violence triggered the resignation of the police force of Tiquicheo – one of five towns in that state to suffer that fate – and army soldiers are currently providing security for its 3,000 inhabitants.
Separately, the state AG’s office said an unidentified man was discovered in a clandestine grave in the hamlet of Chiquimitio, near Morelia.
The preliminary investigation suggests that crime may have been perpetrated by one of the drug-trafficking gangs operating in the state capital.
Local authorities said the area where the five bodies were found has been the scene in recent months of clashes among criminals fighting for control of the Tierra Caliente region, which straddles the states of Michoacan, Guerrero and Mexico.
The La Familia Michoacana crime syndicate was once the dominant gang in Michoacan but it has been badly weakened by the arrests and killings of several of its top leaders and the creation of the Los Caballeros Templarios splinter group.
Michoacan, coveted by drug gangs for its Pacific coastline and home to clandestine marijuana and opium poppy fields, is a key entry point for South American cocaine, as well as chemicals used to manufacture synthetic drugs at laboratories tucked away in the mountains.
Conflicts pitting the cartels against each other and the security forces have claimed more than 50,000 lives in Mexico since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon took office and militarized the struggle against the drug mobs.