MEXICO CITY (AP) — Argentine forensics experts on Saturday questioned Mexico's investigation into the disappearance of 43 students, saying the evidence doesn't support the government's conclusion the youths were killed and burned to ashes.
The Argentine Forensic Anthropologists team, hired on behalf of the victims' parents as an independent party, issued what it said was a list of discrepancies in the case. The team had access to forensic evidence and crime scenes along with federal prosecutors and Mexico's own forensic investigators.
Its statement said Mexico's government presented biased analyses of the scientific evidence to support its conclusion that the bodies of the college students were burned to ashes in Cocula in southern Guerrero state and their remains thrown into a river to hide the evidence. So far only one of the students has been identified from charred remains found at the river.
The team "would like to reiterate that it doesn't exclude the possibility that some of the students met the fate described by the attorney general," the experts said in the statement issued after they met with parents. "But in our opinion there is no scientific evidence to support that in the Cocula garbage dump."
The Attorney General's Office didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on the statement from the Argentine team, a nonprofit forensic science organization that investigates human right violations around the world. It was established in 1984 to investigate cases of at least 9,000 missing under Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said Jan. 27 that based on 39 confessions, 386 declarations, 487 forensic tests, 16 raids and two reconstructions authorities had concluded that municipal police arrested the youths in the city of Iguala on Sept. 26. The students were then allegedly handed over to the Guerreros Unidos cartel, which killed and burned them into the next day in a huge pyre and disposed of the ashes.
Many groups inside Mexico and abroad have questioned Murillo Karam's conclusion as implausible, including that the temperature of an open-air fire could reach that of a crematorium oven and turn 43 bodies to ash.
According to the Argentine team's statement, there was satellite evidence of many fires at the same dump in the last four years. The team found human remains at the dump that did not belong to the students, including a tooth belonging to a set of dentures. None of the students wore dentures.
The team noted the Attorney General's Office made mistakes in 20 genetic profiles collected from family members of the 43 students that made them unusable for DNA matches. It said such errors are unusual as the process of collecting material is simple.
The prosecutor's office also allowed the dump, a key crime scene, to go unguarded for several weeks, permitting anyone to plant or manipulate evidence, the team said. It said it was not present at key moments in the investigation, including when the remains were first found in and along a river and during a Nov. 15 trip to the garbage dump when prosecutors said they found 42 shell casings. The site had not been guarded at that point.
Murrillo Karam's January news conference was seen as an effort by the government to finally close the case, which has caused significant political turmoil inside of Mexico and protests at home and abroad. He later said he was not trying to close the case.
Cocula was the scene of another crime Saturday, when at least 12 people were reported kidnapped in the same municipality. There were conflicting reports on how many were taken and whether some were workers for Media Luna, a Canadian-owned gold mining project in Cocula, where police officers were charged with participating in the student disappearance.
A state prosecutor's spokesmen said 12 people were taken, including some mine workers. A second government official said that 19 were taken and eight later released and that those held included some mine workers. Both insisted on not being quoted by name because the case had not been officially announced. The state official said the kidnappers were disguised as police or military.
But the president of Toronto-based Torex Gold Resources Inc., which owns the mine, said the reports about his employees being abducted were false. Fred Stanford told The Associated Press he had confirmed that nine of his workers who were reported kidnapped were not taken and that he had conflicting information on a 10th employee.
Stanford said Torex Gold has about 250 employees in the area, but at least 1,000 more who are contract workers.
Associated Press writer Jose Antonio Rivera in Acapulco contributed to this report.