Independent probe doubts 43 Mexico students cremated

MEXICO CITY, Mexico – Independent foreign investigators tore apart on Sunday, September 6, the Mexican government's investigation into last year's abduction of 43 students, refuting official conclusions that they were incinerated in a landfill.

Urging the authorities to keep looking for the students snatched by corrupt police a year ago, experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said there was no evidence that they were cremated in a huge bonfire.

After a six-month investigation, the panel released a nearly 500-page report that undermines the official account of a crime that sparked protests and the biggest crisis of President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration.

The document also calls for a probe into the actions of federal police and soldiers during the night of September 26-27, when municipal officers from the southern city of Iguala shot at buses that had been seized by the unarmed students.

The young men were mostly freshmen from a teaching college known for its leftist activism and practice of commandeering buses to move around Guerrero state.

The commission suggested that prosecutors open a new line of investigation into whether the students were attacked because they may have inadvertently taken a bus criminals used to transport heroin.

President Enrique Peña Nieto said on Twitter that he gave instructions "for the investigations into the tragic events of Iguala to take into account the elements presented" by the experts.

'No evidence' of cremation

The attorney general's office concluded late last year that Iguala police, with officers from neighboring Cocula, abducted 43 young men and handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang.

Citing confessions from gang members, then attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam said the students were killed and stacked in a funeral pyre that burned for 14 hours in Cocula's landfill before their ashes were thrown in a nearby river.

The charred remains of only one student were identified in a bag found in the water.

But the commission hired a fire expert who concluded that it would take 60 hours, some 30 tonnes of woods, 13 tonnes of tires and 13 tonnes of diesel to cremate 43 bodies.

Jose Torero, a Peruvian-born professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, wrote that such a blaze would have consumed surrounding vegetation and trash, but only evidence of small fires were found.

"There is no evidence indicating the presence of a fire of the size of a (funeral) pyre for the cremation of even one body," Torero wrote.

Attorney General Arely Gomez said she would order forensic experts to conduct a new investigation into the garbage dump.

The commission's investigators said testimony from five suspects about the alleged cremation was full of contradictions that "question the validity" of the government's conclusions.

The experts said the authorities should investigate claims of torture against suspects. More than 100 people have been detained, including local police, gang suspects and Iguala's mayor.

"This report provides an utterly damning indictment of Mexico's handling of the worst human rights atrocity in recent memory," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Parents of the missing demanded to see Peña Nieto, who has been criticized for only meeting with the families once in October.

"He and his security cabinet lied, and made us endure a time of psychological and emotional trauma," said Felipe de la Cruz, spokesman for the families.

Army role questioned

The report reconstructs a night of terror in Iguala, a city in the southern state of Guerrero known as being part of a drug trafficking route.

Three students and 3 bystanders were killed when police shot at several buses.

Raising questions about the actions of other security forces, the report says federal police and the army were monitoring the movements of the students before they even arrived in Iguala and were present at some crime scenes.

The report says prosecutors should investigate whether the federal forces failed in their "obligation to protect citizens."

The attorney general's office never allowed the commission to interview soldiers.

Prosecutors have suggested that police confronted the students on the orders of then mayor Jose Luis Abarca because he believed they would protest a speech by his politically ambitious wife.

But the commission said the students arrived in Iguala after the speech and suggested they may have been attacked because they could have taken a bus containing drugs.

A fifth bus that the students had commandeered was never included in the reports from federal prosecutors, who always spoke of 4 buses. – Laurent Thomet and Yemeli Ortega, AFP /