Forty-three college students vanished together in Mexico six years ago and were never found. This year, DNA evidence has identified one of them.
The 2014 disappearance shocked Mexicans and drew worldwide condemnation.
Now Mexican authorities have ordered the arrest of 25 soldiers and other military personnel, as well as federal police suspected of involvement in the murders and huge cover-up.
The arrest warrants were announced by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Saturday at a meeting with the anguished parents of the missing students.
“Zero impunity – those proven to have participated will be judged,” he said, without giving details of the charges.
The soon-to-be teachers were travelling by bus to a protest, but were stopped by corrupt police in the city of Iguala, Guerrero state, and handed over to a drug gang.
At first it was believed that the gang mistook the students for members of a rival drug organisation and killed them before burning their bodies at a garbage dump and throwing their charred remains in a river.
Families of the victims have long asserted that the military and police did nothing to protect their children and may even have been involved in their murders.
In July 2020, Mexican authorities finally identified the remains of one of the students. The identification through DNA testing was a breakthrough which led to renewed investigations.
On Saturday, Attorney-General Alejandro Gertz Manero announced, “The missing youths were victims who ended up in the middle of a battle of interests between drug trafficking forces.”
The area where they vanished is a distribution point for moving heroin made from opium poppies grown in the surrounding mountains north to the US.
Manero said that in addition to the missing students, others were killed in the area on the same night. “Nearly 80 people were massacred and hidden by criminal groups and their official accomplices. A cover-up operation was established. It led to arbitrary arrests and torture.”
Interior Ministry Under Secretary Alejandro Encinas said that since the search began for the students, some 245 bodies have been found in the area. Only 22 have ever been identified.
ABC news reports that María Martínez, the mother of one of the missing students, who spoke for the other families, said she told the government to “squeeze a little more” because the families are “mad with pain”.
The prosecutor leading the case said one federal police officer was already in custody.
Mexico’s tattered reputation needs further arrests and convictions to be made sooner rather than later.