Mexico families wait for news as mass grave exhumed

2016-05-26 06:15
Forensic medical personnel exhume 116 bodies found in a mass grave at Tetelzingo community in Morelos State, Mexico. (Alfredo Estrella, AFP)

Forensic medical personnel exhume 116 bodies found in a mass grave at Tetelzingo community in Morelos State, Mexico. (Alfredo Estrella, AFP)

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Tetelcingo - Anguished relatives are standing by as experts dig up a mass grave with more than 100 bodies buried by authorities in Mexico, where morgues are full due to surging violence.

Relatives with missing loved ones have gathered since Monday in the central town of Tetelcingo, waiting behind a security cordon for the operation to empty the two pits, 10m deep.

Guillermina Sotelo, whose son has been missing for nearly four years, is one of those hoping for closure from the week-long operation.

"It's an injustice. They should not have been thrown [into a pit] as if they were animals," she said.

The pit dug by authorities in Tetelcingo, a town in Morelos state about 100km south of Mexico City, was discovered in March 2014.

It reflects the government's struggle to deal with the explosion of violence and the number of murder victims, which climbs by the day.

Morelos has been one of the Mexican states hardest hit by drug violence plaguing the country, including kidnappings and murders.

As many as 28 000 people are thought to have gone missing in Mexico in the past decade, according to estimates by rights groups and the United Nations.

The families of missing victims were outraged to learn about the mass grave. They demanded an inquiry that led to the exhumation.

The work has been slow to start. Relatives objected to the use of an excavator, arguing that it could damage corpses and prevent the bodies from being identified.

Morelos state prosecutor Javier Perez said the bodies were buried in a mass grave for "public health reasons."

In November, he had warned that public morgues were running short of space.

Mexican authorities are permitted to use mass graves, but they must meet legal requirements including forensic analysis. The investigation into the burial pit in Tetelcingo will determine whether authorities followed protocol in this case.

Faked signatures

Maria Concepcion Hernandez, whose son Oliver Wenceslao Navarrete was kidnapped and murdered in May 2013, has slammed authorities' handling of the grave.

She brought the existence of the mass grave to public attention after an official told her that her son was buried there after procedural irregularities involving "falsified" signatures in the paperwork.

Her son's body was exhumed in December 2014.

Video shot by the family showed that the young man's corpse was buried under dozens of other bodies.

That violated international protocol, said Roberto Villaneuva, one of the experts taking part in the exhumation.

According to the protocol, "in mass graves bodies must be separated from each other to allow them to be claimed" by relatives, said Villaneuva, director of a program for victims at the Morelos State Autonomous University.

Hernandez said there were 150 corpses in the grave wrapped in plastic, but state officials say there are only 116. They have DNA records for 88 bodies, but 28 others remain unidentified.

Criminal gangs "can make people disappear in one state and abandon their bodies or bury them in graves in other states," said Javier Sicilia, father of a young man who was murdered in Morelos.

"So naturally the families believe that their relative could [be] buried anywhere."

Sicilia is the founder of the Peace and Justice Movement, a group which lobbied for the mass grave to be exhumed.

As the exhumation continued, Antonio Sandoval, whose brother Alfredo is missing, said it felt like "another day in the nightmare."

Read more on:    mexico  |  narcotics

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