Morelia, Mexico, Jan 7 (IANS/EFE) At least nine people were killed and 44 others arrested in an operation by federal security forces in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, officials said Tuesday.

The operation was carried out to retake the city hall in Apatzingan, a city in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, from gunmen.

The fatalities occurred in two shootouts sparked by the operation, the federal commissioner for security and development in the western state of Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo, said.

One person died in the first shootout, which started when federal forces tried to arrest the individuals occupying Apatzingan city hall, Castillo said.

“The operation to arrest these people started today at 3 a.m., with 44 people arrested and 23 vehicles and 13 firearms seized in the first confrontation,” Castillo told the Imagen radio station.

“Subsequent to this incident, when the army was carrying out the transfer of the (seized) vehicles, a group arrived to recover the people,” triggering a second shootout “in which eight people died,” Castillo said.

Apatzingan city hall had been occupied several times since Dec 22 by Los Viagras, the former armed wing of the Caballeros Templarios and Familia Michoacana drug cartels.

Federal security forces launched the operation to retake city hall early Tuesday and encountered roadblocks set up by people working for Los Viagras in the neighboring city of Uruapan.

The Viagras gang has also been linked to the vigilante groups that were formed in Michoacan in February 2013 and legalised by federal officials three months later under the Rural Force.

President Enrique Peña Nieto sent troops and Federal Police units into Michoacan in January 2014 to suppress the conflict between the Templarios and the vigilantes.