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LATIN AMERICA | 27-09-2018 13:31

Mexico's new leader promises probe into disappearance of 43 missing students

On September 26, 2014, 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College were forcibly taken then disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico.

Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Wednesday his administration will accept a truth commission to investigate the case of 43 teachers-college students missing since September 26, 2014, drawing rare praise and expressions of hope from the long-suffering parents of the victims.

Wednesday marked the fourth anniversary of the abduction of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College by corrupt police in the southern city of Iguala, in Guerrero state. Prosecutors say the police turned the students over to a drug gang, which allegedly killed them and incinerated their bodies. But apart from charred bone fragments matched to one student, their bodies have never been found.

Parents of the 43 missing youths met with López Obrador, and in a tear-filled press conference afterward said they had hope for the first time in four years.

"This is the first day in all these last four years that we parents feel hope that we will get the truth," said Epifanio Álvarez, his voice shaking. "This is the first day that a government has said to us, 'We are going to help, we are going to get to the truth.'"

Another parent, María Elena Guerrero, said the new investigative commission would be coordinated with a group of experts from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, the United Nations and Mexico's own Human Rights Commission. "Without truth there is no justice," she said.

López Obrador said he would issue a decree to create the commission when he takes office December 1. He called the parents of the 43 "an example for everyone fighting for justice in Mexico and the world."

Afterward victims' relatives, supporters and students marched through the streets of Mexico City to commemorate the anniversary.

It was a break from years of suspicion, deceit and mistrust during which official investigators were accused of manipulating evidence, torturing suspects and trying to channel the entire investigation toward a single hypothesis: that the students were killed and their bodies incinerated in a huge fire at a garbage dump outside the southern city of Iguala.

But international experts and the victims' parents cast doubt on that theory, and want a more thorough probe of the possible involvement of the army or other authorities.

Meanwhile, students and victims' parents have engaged in a series of violent protests outside army barracks and on highways, in which gasoline bombs have been thrown and trucks and buses hijacked.

Truth commission

In June, a federal court ordered the government to create the truth commission due to doubts about the investigation. But the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto has appealed that ruling, saying there is no provision for such an investigative body in the Mexican legal system.

The outgoing leader tweeted Wednesday, "four years after the regrettable events in Iguala, the government is committed to the victims' families and to justice."

Peña Nieto has said he remained convinced of the massive fire theory. But the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report saying that 34 of the 129 people arrested in connection with the students' disappearance had suffered torture.

The federal prosecutors' office said in a statement that it had filled 620 volumes with investigative documents, taken testimony from 1,447 people and charged 69 people with kidnapping in the case.

The office said 650 searches had been carried out, many in areas other than the garbage dump and nearby river where the first hypothesis indicated the students' bone fragments had been dumped.

The office said it had used sniffer dogs, radar and a laser-scanning technology known as LIDAR to hunt for possible clandestine burial sites.

Still, prosecutors acknowledged that four years after the disappearances, nobody has been convicted in the case.

- AP

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