November 2, 2014 / 8:28 PM / 3 years ago

Mexico charges seven soldiers in deaths of suspected gang members

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico has charged three soldiers with murder and four with dereliction of duty over the deaths of 22 suspected gang members who died in an army confrontation in June, prosecutors said on Sunday.

Prosecutors had initially accepted the army’s account that the suspected gang members had died in a June 30 shootout with the soldiers. But that changed after journalists interviewed an alleged witness, who said the victims had surrendered and were then shot.

The incident took place in Tlatlaya on the southern fringes of the State of Mexico, which borders Guerrero and Michoacan, states plagued by gang violence.

In September, Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo said three army soldiers had been accused of homicide over the Tlatlaya incident. Murillo said the three soldiers were part of a group of eight held.

Prosecutors announced on Sunday that three soldiers - Fernando Quintero, Roberto Acevedo and Leobardo Hernandez - were charged in civilian court with the murder of eight of the alleged gang members.

The other four soldiers were charged with dereliction of duty. It was not immediately clear why the eighth soldier was not charged.

Under a series of recent judicial reforms, Mexico’s military can now face civilian charges when soldiers commit crimes against civilians.

The mass killing is one of a number of recent security issues that have upset Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s efforts to shift attention onto his economic reforms and away from endemic gang violence that has claimed around 100,000 lives since 2007.

On Sept. 26, 43 students were abducted from the southwestern state of Guerrero, and more than a month later, they remain missing, leading to mass protests across the country.

Prosecutors say the students were abducted by corrupt police in cahoots with a local drug gang and city officials.

Reporting by Noe Torres and Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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