MEXICO has detained eight military personnel involved in an alleged shoot-out in June that killed 22 suspected gang members.
The confrontation took place in Tlatlaya on the southern fringes of the state of Mexico, which borders Guerrero and Michoacan – both regions plagued by gang violence.
At the time, authorities said the dead – 21 men and one woman – were suspected gang members, who had fired on soldiers first.
Last week, Mexico’s attorney-general said it was investigating the case after an alleged witness to the shoot-out contradicted that account, saying that the 22 people were executed after surrendering to the army.
In response the army said it had every interest in a thorough investigation and would co- operate completely.
Yesterday the defence ministry said it had detained seven soldiers for presumed breach of duty and one official for a suspected violation of military discipline, disobedience and breach of duty.
The Mexican defence department said in a statement that the eight were involved in the incident on 30 June, in San Pedro Limon, but did not specify how. Yesterday the group were being held at a prison in Mexico City on charges of crimes against military discipline, disobedience and dereliction of duty.
The statement said the military charges were being pursued “independently of the investigations that civil authorities are carrying out under their jurisdiction”.
Raul Plascencia, president of Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, said the defence department statement was not clear about the soldiers’ connection to the killings. Mr Plascencia’s commission is also investigating the case.
Recent reforms require that alleged military offences against civilians be tried in civilian courts, but does not bar the military justice system from pursuing its own charges.
Shortly after the confrontation, the army reported that 22 suspected criminals had been killed in a firefight with troops. Only one soldier was wounded. The official version came into question when days later, reporters found no sign of a prolonged battle.
At least five spots inside the warehouse where the bloodshed occurred showed the same pattern: one or two closely placed bullet pocks, surrounded by a mass of spattered blood, giving the appearance that some of those killed had been standing against a wall and shot at about chest level.
Last week, a female witness said that only one person died in the initial confrontation and the rest were shot after surrendering. The witness said the dead included her 15-year-old daughter, who had been wounded in the leg and was lying on the ground when she was killed.
Until recently, officials have stood by the initial account of a fierce firefight.