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Oct 5, 2014 8:21 PM

Mexico prosecutor says mass grave held 28 bodies

The Associated Press

IGUALA, Mexico (AP) State officials worked Monday to determine whether 28 bodies found in a clandestine grave are students who clashed with police a week ago in the southern state of Guerrero.

Guerrero State Prosecutor Inaky Blanco said the bodies are badly damaged and that genetic testing could take two weeks to two months to determine if they are some of the 43 college students reported missing after the violent confrontation in Iguala, located about 120 miles (200 kilometers) south of Mexico City.

Blanco said one of the people detained in the case had told investigators that 17 students were taken to that grave site on the outskirts of the Iguala and killed there.

"As long as the identity of the cadavers has not been resolved we will continue the search" for the missing students, Blanco said Sunday.

The grave covering and the burning appeared fresh, according to one official close to the case, who was not authorized to speak to the press. But there are layers of bodies separated by tarps, the official added, indicating that some could have been there for some time.

State police and prosecutors have been investigating the Iguala city police over a series of violent incidents last weekend that resulted in six shooting deaths and more than two dozen people injured. Investigators said video showed police taking away an undetermined number of student protesters.

Authorities have presented charges against 29 people in the case, including 22 police officers detained soon after the violence. Three of the suspects are fugitives, including Iguala's police chief.

Blanco said they are still investigating the motive for the crime, adding that some of the police have connections to a local drug cartel.

President Enrique Pena Nieto was scheduled to give a statement Monday amid rising international concern over two possible cases of summary executions by Mexican authorities. In addition to the Iguala case, in which city police are implicated, an army unit is now under investigation and three soldiers are charged with murder in a June 30 confrontation that killed 22 in neighboring Mexico state.

Pena Nieto has downplayed violence in the country while focusing on political and economic reforms. His administration reports a drop in homicide, though crimes such as extortion and kidnapping, have dramatically increased.

In the Iguala case, Blanco said Saturday that some of those arrested provided key clues that led investigators to the six unmarked burial pits on an isolated hillside about a mile (2 kilometers) from the nearest road. The bodies had been put in the pits on top of branches and tree trunks, which were doused with a flammable substance such as gasoline and set on fire.

Vidulfo Rosales, a lawyer helping families of the missing students, said relatives of 37 of the young people already had provided DNA samples that will be used to determine if the recovered remains belong to any of the students.

As investigators worked at the grave site, up to 2,000 protesters blocked a main highway in the state capital of Chilpancingo demanding justice. "You took them alive, we want them returned alive," read a huge banner hung across the road linking Mexico City and Acapulco.

Like many other schools in Mexico's rural teachers college system, Aytozinapa is known for militant and radical protests.

The mother of one of the missing youths said her son, 17-year-old Luis Angel Abarca Carrillo, had enrolled in the Aytozinapa teachers college attended by the missing students in order to get ahead in life and not be a poor farmer like his brothers.

"But now look what they did to him, he hasn't reappeared," said 60-year-old Margarita Carrillo.

Mexico's National Human Rights Commission opened its own investigation into the case for possible "serious human rights abuses," such as extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances by Iguala city police.

The commission said in a statement Sunday that it had warned about the "delicate" situation in Guerrero, a southern state where poverty feeds social unrest and drug gangs clash over territory.


Associated Press writer Maria Verza in Mexico City contributed to this report.


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