Mexico troops held in killing of 22 gang suspects

2014-09-26 10:44

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Mexico City - A Mexican army officer and seven soldiers were detained on Thursday in connection with the shooting deaths of 22 gang suspects after a witness said 21 of them were executed despite surrendering.

The defence ministry said the officer and the soldiers were taken to a military prison in Mexico City and face dereliction of duty charges in the high-profile case.

The arrests came a week after the Latin America edition of Esquire magazine said a witness had seen the so-called executions and that one of those killed was her 15-year-old daughter.

The officer also faces charges of violating military discipline and disobedience, the ministry said in a statement.

"The aforementioned military personnel participated in the events that took place on 30 June 2014, in Tlatlaya," the statement said, referring to the town where the shooting took place 240km southwest of Mexico City.

Impartial investigation

If the allegations are confirmed, it would become the worst massacre committed by the armed forces since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office in December 2012.

The military has been dogged by allegations of torture and other abuses since former president Felipe Calderon deployed tens of thousands of troops to combat drug cartels in 2006.

International human rights groups have urged authorities to conduct an impartial investigation and protect the witness in the Tlatlaya case.

The US government, which has provided more than $1bn in training and equipment to Mexico's security forces in the drug war, has called for a "credible review" to be conducted by civilian authorities.

The Mexican federal attorney general's office as well as the semi-official National Human Rights Commission are carrying out their own investigations.

Legal action

The defence ministry indicated that the military charges are separate from any legal action that civilian prosecutors could take in the case.

Until the arrests, the military had maintained that the 22 suspects had died after firing first from a warehouse as the troops patrolled the street.

But the defence ministry's version of events began to be questioned after it reported only one soldier was wounded in the supposed gunfight.

Then last week, Esquire reported that it had interviewed a woman who saw the soldiers kill the suspects after they gave themselves up following the shootout.

The witness said only one man had died in the shootout and the rest were lined up and shot dead, and that her daughter was among those killed.

The military had also said that three women who presented themselves as kidnap victims were rescued. Esquire later said one of the women was the witness but she said she had been at the warehouse to pick up her daughter.

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