Latin America & Caribbean

Mexico missing students: Mayor charged over 'gang ties'

Cesar Miguel Penaloza Santana speaks during a interview in Cocula, Guerrero State, Mexico, on October 16, 2014. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Cesar Miguel Penaloza Santana was the mayor of Cocula when 43 students disappeared from nearby Iguala

A court in Mexico has charged the former mayor of Cocula, Cesar Penaloza Santana, with links to organised crime.

The town hit the headlines last year when local police officers were linked to the disappearance of 43 students.

The government said corrupt officers from Cocula and nearby Iguala abducted the 43 and handed them over to a local drug gang, that then killed them.

The case highlighted high levels of corruption not just in the local police force but also in local government.

'Criminal ties'

Mr Penaloza Santana was arrested on 16 December on suspicion of having links with "a criminal group which operates in northern Guerrero state", the prosecutor's office said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Cocula is not far from Iguala, from where 43 students went missing in September 2014

Officials did not give any further details, but local media reported that a suspect in the students' disappearance had linked Mr Penaloza Santana to the Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) drug gang,

The 43 students from a teacher training college went missing on 26 September 2014.


Image copyright AP

Who are they?

The 43 were all students at an all-male teacher training college in the town of Aytozinapa, in south-western Guerrero state. The college has a history of left-wing activism and the students regularly took part in protests.

What happened to them?

They disappeared from the town of Iguala on the evening of 26 September 2014 amid a confrontation between municipal police and the students in which six people were killed.

Have any of them been found?

Independent forensic experts have matched charred bone fragments reportedly found at a rubbish dump near Iguala to Alexander Mora, one of the 43 missing students. They also say there is a high probability another set of remains could belong to Jhosivani Guerrero de la Cruz, another of the students. However, experts from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights say the chain of evidence was broken and they could not be sure the bone fragments had been found at the dump.

What is the government's version of events?

According to the official report, the students were seized by corrupt municipal police officers who handed them over to members of a local drugs gang. The gang mistook the students for members of a rival gang, killed them and burned their bodies at the dump before throwing their ashes into a nearby stream.

Why do the families not believe the official report?

They think officials have failed to investigate the role soldiers from a nearby barracks may have played in the students' disappearance. The government has refused to let the soldiers, who were in the area at the time of the disappearance, be questioned by anyone but government prosecutors. The families also point to the report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which said that there was no evidence the bodies of the 43 were burned at the dump.

A government investigation concluded that they were seized by corrupt municipal police officers, who handed them to members of the Guerreros Unidos.

According to the investigation, the students were killed by the gang, who mistook them for members of a rival group.

Their bodies were then burned at a rubbish dump outside of Cocula, the report said.

DNA tests revealed that bone fragments police said they had found at the rubbish dump were those of one of the missing students, Alexander Mora.

However, an independent investigation into the students' disappearance has since rejected the government's account of events.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said in September that it had found no evidence that the bodies were incinerated.

The commission urged the government to continue looking for the missing students but did not offer any further clues as to what might have happened to them.

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