TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — A U.S.-based non-governmental organization on Saturday criticized Honduras' official investigation of a fatal shooting during a drug interdiction operation after its conclusions contradicted reports of witnesses and the group's own investigation into what happened.
The probe's findings announced Friday said that two victims were not pregnant and that none of the four people killed were hit by gunfire from a law-enforcement helicopter involved in the May drug raid in the Mosquitia region. Local people and some rights activists have claimed the victims were shot by police, two were pregnant and all were innocent civilians traveling a river at night. Police said the people killed were in a boat that fired on the helicopter.
"The Honduran authorities' claims simply are not credible, when confronted with forensic evidence and so much eyewitness testimony to the contrary," Dan Beeton, spokesman for the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy and Research in Washington, wrote in an email.
Some agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration accompanied Honduras' National Police officers during the operation, but the agency said none of the U.S. personnel fired their weapons.
Authorities in the U.S. and Honduras have refused to release videos of either the May 11 shooting incident or the autopsies of the victims, video that could resolve disputes over details. The operation has been the object of intense criticism in Honduras.
German Enamorado, chief of Honduras' Office of Human Rights, said Friday that two female victims were not pregnant as witnesses reported. Beeton said autopsies of the two women were carried out in an unprofessional manner 40 days later in the open air at the cemetery. He said friends of the women claimed both were pregnant.
Enamorado also said forensic tests show the bullets that hit the four people killed were fired horizontally, not from above. In addition, the slugs were from smaller-caliber bullets used by M-16 rifles and not the heavier weapon mounted on the helicopter, he said.
An earlier report by Rights Action, a Toronto-based human rights organization, and by Beeton's group, a progressive economic-policy think tank, took a different view on the ballistics: "Death records as well as an interview of a Honduran official present at the exhumation and autopsy of the victims confirm that all of the deceased victims had sustained high-caliber bullet wounds."
The shooting occurred during Operation Yunque, a joint initiative using six U.S. helicopters and a special team of DEA agents in addition to the Honduran police.
At least seven people were killed during the operation's three months, including one fatally shot by DEA agents who were approaching a crashed plane they suspected was carrying drugs.
Associated Press writer Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz, California, contributed to this report.