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article imageMexico president-elect vows probe on 43 missing students

By Jennifer GONZALEZ COVARRUBIAS (AFP)     Sep 26, 2018 in World

Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Wednesday promised the parents of 43 students abducted in 2014 to unravel the unsolved case, on the anniversary of a suspected massacre that traumatized the country.

Four years on, Mexico is still haunted by the disappearance of the students from the Ayotzinapa teachers' college in the southern state of Guerrero.

The case has become a symbol of the gruesome violence rocking the country, and a stain on the human rights record of the man Lopez Obrador will replace on December 1, outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Speaking after meeting with the students' parents, the leftist president-elect vowed he would work to shed light on the crime from the day he takes office.

"On December 1, if it has not already been done, we will sign a decree to create an investigative commission and define the procedures we will follow until the truth is found and justice is done," said Lopez Obrador.

"We also agreed to throw open the doors of the next government and the country to the international human rights organizations that have battled to prevent this case from being closed," he told journalists.

- Unsolved crime -

The 43 young men attended a school known for its tradition of rowdy demonstrations for left-wing causes, the Raul Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College.

On the night of September 26, 2014, they commandeered five buses to travel to a protest -- a long-standing tradition at the college -- and were attacked and then detained by municipal police in the city of Iguala, Guerrero.

According to federal prosecutors, corrupt police officers who were on the payroll of the drug cartel Guerreros Unidos mistook the students for members of a rival cartel.

They allegedly handed them over to Guerreros Unidos hitmen, who slaughtered them and incinerated their bodies at a garbage dump.

However, independent investigators from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights who carried out a forensic analysis of the supposed crime scene found that version of events was impossible.

There was no sign that such an enormous bonfire had burned at the site, they said.

The government's failure to clarify the case has caused widespread speculation about an elaborate cover-up.

The independent experts hypothesized the students may have inadvertently hijacked a bus loaded with heroin bound for the United States.

In a country known for murky links between powerful drug cartels and corrupt officials, that has raised questions about who could have been behind such a shipment.

The case has drawn international condemnation of Pena Nieto's government, which continues to insist the prosecution's version of events is the "historical truth."

- 'Ray of hope' -

The meeting with Lopez Obrador gave the outraged, grieving parents "a ray of hope," said Maria Elena Guerrero, the mother of student Giovanni Galindes, who was 20 when he disappeared.

"We've been fighting for four years, opening any door we can, and today a door opened on its own," she said, carrying a large photograph of her son.

The pending change in administration "gives us hope we will find out what happened to our children," said a sobbing Epifanio Alvarez, whose son Jorge was 19 when he was abducted.

The investigative commission will comprise victims' parents, rights groups, international organizations and the federal government, said Alejandro Encinas, the man tapped to lead it.

The prosecution's own investigation has been widely criticized.

It led to the arrest of 119 people. But the United Nations alleges many of them were tortured, and says the evidence obtained is irreparably tainted. No one has ever been sentenced for the crime.

The UN repeated its criticism of the government's version of events.

"It is worrying that the government has focused on reiterating the untenable and trying to silence or discredit voices that question it," said the Mexico office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Mexico has seen an explosion of crime in recent years linked to brutal violence by drug cartels.

Last year, the country registered a record 28,702 homicides, and grisly discoveries of mass graves are a regular occurrence.

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