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An attorney advising a beleaguered indigenous community in the western Mexican state of Michoacan said Wednesday that organized crime was behind the kidnapping and murder of two Cheran residents found dead this week.

The killings stemmed from a long-running battle between Cheran and neighboring El Cerecito over illegal logging in the area, David Peña told MVS radio.

"In the last three years, that community (El Cerecito) has allied with organized crime and systematically exploited the forests," the lawyer said.

The leaders of Cheran, a community of some 4,500 Purepecha Indians 123 kilometers (76 miles) from Morelia, the capital of Michoacan, announced last year that they would no longer recognize the federal, state and municipal governments because officials could not protect their forests from illegal loggers.

Michoacan's top official for law and order, Jesus Reyna, ascribed this week's murder to an intra-Indian dispute and dismissed claims of organized crime involvement.

"It's really a matter of dispute over the forest, over illegal cutting of the woodlands, which is very difficult for us to contain," he said in comments to MVS.

Cheran residents Jose Guadalupe Geronimo and Urbano Macias went missing on Sunday and the latter subsequently telephoned his family to say that he and his friend had been abducted by people from El Cerecito.

On Tuesday, Cheran residents and their supporters burst into the Michoacan state assembly in Morelia to demand a more effective search for their missing neighbors, only to learn during the protest that Geronimo and Macias had been found slain.

Representatives of Cheran sought to meet with Reyna's deputy, Obdulio Avila, but he refused to see them, attorney Peña said.

Given "the dimension the Cheran conflict has reached at the national and international level," the lawyer said he was surprised to see authorities "go on thinking that it's simply a fight for territory or for control of a zone, when in reality it's a confrontation with organized crime, which is devastating a great part of this country, particularly in Michoacan." EFE