October 5, 2014 / 7:49 PM / 3 years ago

Mexico massacre victims feared to be missing students

Students from Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College student hold back a military vehicle during a road block to demand the safe return of students who went missing on September 26, on the outskirts of Chilpancingo, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, October 5, 2014.Jorge Dan Lopez

IGUALA Mexico (Reuters) - Bodies found in mass graves in southwestern Mexico are feared to be those of students who went missing last month after they clashed with corrupt local police, authorities said on Sunday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, local officials said that at least 34 bodies had been buried at the site.

While federal investigators, police and the army continued to pull human remains out of the plot of broken land on the outskirts of the city of Iguala, families of 43 missing students were set to stage a fresh protest to demand information on the whereabouts of their loved ones.

As dogs wandered about a rough dirt track petering out into the sierra, security officials said they believed the victims had been driven to the end of the track, walked up the hillside, executed and buried in six graves.

Police infiltrated by local drug cartels are suspected of abducting some of the students, a local security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity."You really can't call them police," the official said, standing on the hillside above Iguala.The security official said suspected gang members had told investigators that police had handed over the students to the people who killed them, who belonged to the gang. The suspected gang members had also helped the authorities identify the site, the security official said.However, the state government said it could be days before the identities of the dead are known.Soldiers and police had cordoned off the dirt track where it ended not far from the graves, which lay about a 40-minute walk across rocky terrain inaccessible by vehicle.

PRESSURE ON PRESIDENT

Several investigators said they feared the victims were some of the students who went missing after clashes with local police in Iguala on the night of Sept. 26.

Thirty people, including 22 police, have been arrested in connection with the violence, which claimed the lives of at least six people and left 25 injured.The graves have created a major headache for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office two years ago pledging to end a wave of gang-related violence that has killed around 100,000 people since the start of 2007.

Though homicides have fallen on his watch, other crimes have increased, including extortion and kidnapping.

Over the past few days, Pena Nieto's record on law and order has taken a number of blows, including the killing of a federal congressman and news that soldiers are believed to have summarily executed a group of suspected gang members earlier this year.

Information leading to the discovery of the graves had in part come from the interrogation of local police arrested after the clashes in Iguala, the security official said.

Guerrero state, home to Iguala and the resort of Acapulco, has been one of the most lawless in the country for years.

Officials said the remains of nine people had been taken down from the hillside so far, with another 25 due to follow.

The bodies so far recovered had been so badly burned that only bones and bits of flesh remained, a local government official said.

Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Simon Gardner and Abigail Fielding-Smith

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