IGUALA, Mexico (AP) – Security forces investigating the role of municipal police in deadly clashes with protesters have found burned human remains in mass graves on the edge of this city in southern Mexico, a lawyer for the families of 43 missing students said Sunday.
Attorney Vidulfo Rosales told The Associated Press the remains were still unidentified and belonged to an undetermined number of people. There were six graves in the burial area near Iguala, which is about 120 miles (200 kilometers) south of Mexico City.
Over the past several days, relatives of 37 of the missing young people have provided DNA samples which will be used to determine if the recovered remains belong to any of the students, the attorney said.
The students went missing following a series of violent incidents involving protesters, police and unidentified gunmen last weekend that also resulted in six shooting deaths.
A group of up to 2,000 protesters blocked a main highway in the state capital of Chilpancingo on Sunday demanding justice and requesting donations from passing motorists for the students’ families and the school.
“You took them alive, we want them returned alive,” read a huge banner across the road linking Mexico City and Acapulco.
The father of one of the missing students expressed doubt that the remains belonged to the young people. He spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety.
Another father, Acapulco street vendor Jesus Lopez, whose 19-year-old son Giovani is among the missing, said he hoped the remains weren’t those of the students.
Other relatives “told us that (the remains) were burned, and that they couldn’t be the kids,” Lopez said. “But we’re really nervous.”
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. The commission said in a statement Sunday that it had warned about the “delicate” situation in Guerrero, a southern state where poverty feeds social unrest and drug gangs clash over territory.
Anger over the discovery of the graves exploded Saturday night when a group of young people from the school protested outside the governor’s Chilpancingo residence. They threw Molotov cocktails and overturned a car after state authorities told them they would not be allowed to travel to the graves to determine if the bodies are those of their missing classmates.
Guerrero State Prosecutor Inaky Blanco did not say how many bodies were in the burial pits uncovered on a hillside on Iguala’s outskirts, and he declined to speculate about whether the dead were the missing students.
“It would be irresponsible” to jump to conclusions before tests to identify the bodies, Blanco said on Saturday night.
Blanco said eight more people had been arrested in the case, adding to the 22 Iguala city police officers detained in the case. State prosecutors have said the first of the recent bloodshed occurred on Sept. 26 when city police shot at buses that had been hijacked by protesting students from a teachers college, killing three youths and wounding 25. A few hours later, unidentified masked gunmen shot at two taxis and a bus carrying a soccer team on the main highway, killing two people on the bus and one in a taxi.
The prosecutor said state investigators have obtained videos showing that local police arrested an undetermined number of students after the initial clash.
He said some of the eight newly arrested people were members of an organized crime gang, adding that some of them had given key clues leading to the discovery of the mass grave.
Blanco said his investigators had found that “elements of the municipal police are part of organized crime.” He also said his office was searching for Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and had alerted officials across Mexico to be on the lookout for him.
Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre charged earlier in the week that organized crime had infiltrated the city government.
The missing students attended the Aytozinapa Normal school which, like many other schools in Mexico’s “rural teachers college” system, is known for militant and radical protests.
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