State officials worked Monday to determine whether 28 bodies found in a clandestine grave are students who were attacked by police suspected of drug gang links. President Enrique Pena Nieto called the deaths “outrageous, painful and unacceptable.”
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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.
Pena Nieto said Monday he has dispatched federal security forces to aid in the investigation, “find out what happened and apply the full extent of the law to those responsible.”
His statement came amid rising international concern over two possible cases of mass killings involving 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 suspected gang members in neighboring Mexico state.
The army originally reported that the 22 died in a gun battle after soldiers on patrol came under fire. But a witness told The Associated Press that 21 of them were killed after they surrendered.
State police and prosecutors have been investigating the Iguala city police over a series of incidents last weekend in which six people were shot dead and more than two dozen people injured. Investigators said video showed police taking away an undetermined number of students, who had gone from a rural teachers college in Aytozinapa to the city to solicit donations.
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, the so-called Guerreros Unidos, or United Warriors.
Like many other schools in Mexico’s rural teachers college system, Aytozinapa is known for militant and radical protests.
Parts of Guerrero are controlled by vigilante-style community police forces, some believed to have ties to the country’s leftist guerrilla movements. Drug traffickers sometimes form their own pseudo-vigilante groups, and the state is torn by ancestral land conflicts, illegal logging and mining interests that create a powder keg for potential conflict.
The families of the Iguala victims have called for a national protest Wednesday of teachers, student and community police that “will paralyze the country,” said family spokesman Manuel Martinez.
“It will have one purpose: their return alive,” he said.
Blanco said Saturday that some of those arrested provided 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.
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.
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.
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.
Associated Press writer Maria Verza in Mexico City contributed to this report.