Vi­o­lent wave re­veals Mex­ico hid­den graves

Police find sev­ered heads, along with dozens of bod­ies

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Jose Antonio Rivera

ACA­PULCO, Mex­ico — Sol­diers and police fanned out Fri­day across the south­ern Mex­i­can state of Guer­rero, chas­ing a wounded gang leader and try­ing to quell a wave of vi­o­lence that in­cluded the dis­cov­ery of hid­den graves hold­ing dozens of bod­ies and a camp where gun­men stored the sev­ered heads of nine ri­vals in a cooler.

The clashes be­tween drug gangs were com­pli­cated by the fact that towns­peo­ple fed up with the vi­o­lence had formed “com­mu­nity police” vig­i­lante squads in many places. The squads of­ten pre­vent police and sol­diers from mov­ing freely and some­times act on be­half of the gangs.

Gov. Hec­tor As­tudillo an­nounced that fed­eral au­thor­i­ties would re­turn to pa­trol ar­eas where dozens of of­ten-dis­mem­bered bod- ies have been dumped on road­sides in re­cent weeks.

The state has been riven, not just by the killings, but by the kid­nap­ping of about a dozen peo­ple in the town of Aju­chit­lan. Res­i­dents there an­nounced they would cre­ate a vig­i­lante force to look for the kid­nap vic­tims, an idea that threat­ened to cre­ate yet another armed group.

The Aju­chit­lan res­i­dents were ap­par­ently kid­napped last week by a fugi­tive gang leader known as “El Te­qui­lero,” who was be­lieved to be wounded and hid­ing out with his kid­nap vic­tims.

The state at­tor­ney gen­eral headed up a mas­sive man­hunt us­ing he­li­copters and ground troops to look for him. But As­tudillo warned that the vig­i­lantes would have to with­draw to al­low police and sol­diers to do their jobs.

“The army, the state police, they can’t be there with armed groups,” As­tudillo said. “With­draw, and we will en­ter im­me­di­ately.”

The gover­nor also an­nounced the cre­ation of mixed army-police pa­trols in parts of the state torn apart by car­tel turf bat­tles. One such area is the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Zit­lala, where a drug gang had set up a ru­ral camp where it held kid­nap vic­tims and dis­posed of bod­ies.

When one of the joint military-police pa­trols hap­pened upon the camp ear­lier this week, it found a kid­napped man and what ap­peared to be clan­des­tine burial pits. In­ves­ti­ga­tors ini­tially re­ported find­ing a dozen bod­ies. Af­ter days of dig­ging, they dis­cov­ered 32 bod­ies in 17 pits.

The camp is near the area where nine de­cap­i­tated bod­ies were found dumped on a road­side last week. The nine heads found in cool­ers at the camp may be­long to those bod­ies, in­ves­ti­ga­tors said. The bod­ies and heads were taken to foren­sic labs in a bid to identify them.

The area has been the scene of turf bat­tles be­tween two ri­val drug gangs — the Ro­jos and the Ardil­los — who en­gage in ex­tor­tion, kid­nap­pings and killings. That ri­valry has re­sulted in hun­dreds of deaths and dis­ap­pear­ances in re­cent years.

JOSE LUIS DE LA CRUZ/EPA

Mex­i­can Fed­eral Police of­fi­cers work at the site where dozens of bod­ies were dis­cov­ered.

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