JOSE JOAQUIN HERRERA, Mexico (NBC News) – Tired of violence, residents of a small Mexican community encircled by drug cartels, have let their children receive military-style weapons training.

Too afraid to step out of their enclave of 16 mountain villages in the violence-plagued southwestern Guerrero state, residents say they have been left with little choice.

Corn farmers in this rugged region have formed self-defense “Community police” militias to protect themselves. It started five years ago.

The move by the villagers to offer arms training to school-age children shocked the nation and made global headlines.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s government has struggled to get a grip on gangs and violence.

In January 2020, 10 musicians from the area were ambushed and killed by suspected cartel members after stepping out of the territory guarded by their self-defense militia.

The Mexican government has been critical of arming children in the country’s restive regions.

However, residents remain deeply suspicious of regional authorities and the smattering of local policemen in their villages, who they accuse of being the eyes and ears of cartels.