IGUALA, Mexico (AFP) – Mexico faced growing international pressure Tuesday to solve the disappearance of 43 students who vanished after they were attacked by police linked to a drug gang.
The United States and the Organisation of American States joined appeals for the country to find the young men, who were last seen 10 days ago in Iguala, a city in the violence-plagued state of Guerrero.
Fears over their fate rose over the weekend after authorities found a mass grave up a steep hill outside Iguala containing 28 unidentified and badly burned bodies.
Two gang hitmen told investigators they had executed 17 of the 43 young men and dumped them in pits. But authorities say it will take at least two weeks for DNA tests to confirm the victims’ identities.
“This is a troubling crime that demands a full, transparent investigation,” said US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “The perpetrators must be brought to justice.”
OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza called for “the clarification of the murders that have brought grief not only to the Mexican people, but to all the countries of the Americas.”
While authorities say the motive remains under investigation, Guerrero’s governor said one theory is that the police attacked the students because the mayor’s wife was concerned they would disrupt a speech she was giving that day.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto deployed hundreds of federal police to Iguala on Monday to take over security and disarm the municipal police force.
The attorney general’s office dispatched 30 investigators, criminologists and forensic experts to crack the case, which could rank among the most horrific in a drug war that has left 80,000 people dead and 22,000 missing since 2006.
But families of the missing refuse to believe they are dead. And hundreds of members of a civilian militia, which formed last year to combat cartels, arrived in Iguala to help with the search.
Authorities say the municipal police and its gang allies shot at buses carrying the students on the night of September 26. Several students, from a teacher training college where radical students often have commandeered buses, were later seen bundled into patrol cars.
Another bus carrying a football team was attacked outside the city. In all, six people, including three students, were killed before the 43 went missing.
Authorities have detained around 30 people in the case, including 22 Iguala police officers, while the mayor and city security chief are on the run.