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Mexico arrests ex-army general linked to 2014 disappearance of 43 students

People stand under portraits of 43 college students as part of an art installation by Ai Weiwei at the Contemporary Art University Museum in Mexico City on April 13, 2019. (Photo by AP)

Authorities in Mexico have arrested a retired general and three other military officials for their alleged involvement in the disappearance of 43 students in southern Mexico in 2014, a senior government official said on Thursday.

Mexico's deputy minister for security Ricardo Mejía said the government had issued arrest warrants for four military officials, including the former commander of the army base in the southwestern city of Iguala where the students from Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College were abducted in 2014.

“Four arrest warrants have been issued against members of the Mexican Army,” Mejía was quoted as saying. “There are three people arrested, among them the commander of the 27th infantry battalion when the events took place in Iguala in September 2014.”

In total, arrest warrants have been issued for more than 80 suspects in the case, including 20 military personnel, 44 police officers, and 14 cartel members, according to prosecutors.

Mejia stopped short of identifying those arrested in the case, but the commander of the Iguala base at that time was Jose Rodriguez Perez.

Last month, a truth commission blamed military personnel for the disappearance of students, which in 2014 led to mass protests and strong condemnation of then-President Enrique Pena Nieto's government.

Alejandro Encinas, undersecretary of the interior who led the commission, said at the time that information corroborated with emergency telephone calls indicated that “six of the 43 disappeared students were held [for] several days” before allegedly being handed over to Perez.

“Allegedly, the six students were alive for as many as four days after the events and were killed and disappeared on orders of the colonel, allegedly the then-Colonel Jose Rodriguez Perez,” he noted.

The report called the disappearances a “state crime,” noting that authorities were closely monitoring the students from the time they left their campus through their abduction in the town of Iguala.

According to investigators, the students were detained by corrupt police and handed over to a drug cartel that mistook them for members of a rival gang, but exactly what happened to them is disputed.

Perez had ordered the murder of six of the 43 students, according to authorities. Their remains were never found but burned bone fragments have been matched to three students.

“There is also information corroborated with emergency 089 telephone calls where allegedly six of the 43 disappeared students were held during several days and alive in what they call the old warehouse and from there were turned over to the colonel,” Encinas said.

“Allegedly the six students were alive for as many as four days after the events and were killed and disappeared on orders of the colonel, allegedly the then Col. José Rodríguez Pérez.”

In 2019, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ordered the reopening of the probe into the disappearances, which was followed by arrest warrants for several former officials, including Tomas Zeron, the head of the federal investigation agency at the time who has been hiding in Israel.

Last month, federal prosecutors arrested the former prosecutor general Jesus Murillo Karam on charges of forced disappearance, torture, and obstruction of justice in the high-profile case.

The Miguel Agustin Pro Human Rights Center and other non-governmental organizations in a joint statement on Thursday said the government had so far not notified the families of the case against Rodríguez nor the charges he would face.

The statement said there was “abundant” evidence about the collusion of soldiers from the Iguala base with organized crime, calling on authorities to appeal the judge’s decision absolving Abarca and others.

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