Mexican police chief charged with helping in Dec. massacre Prosecutors hint at links to higher state officials

January 13, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico -- Federal prosecutors have accused a state police commander of helping to arm a gang of paramilitary gunmen who murdered 45 Indian villagers in December. They are the first criminal charges filed against police and state government officials who have been under investigation for the massacre.

The prosecutors also indicated that their investigation is closing in on higher state officials who may have provided direct support to the killers. They said that the police commander, Felipe Vazquez Espinosa, testified that "superior officers" ordered him to turn a blind eye to paramilitary groups flaunting illegal weapons in his precinct as long as they supported Mexico's ruling political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

At the same time, the National Human Rights Commission, a federal government agency, has described in a report how senior state officials and police commanders protected the killers, mangled the crime scene without conducting an investigation, loaded the bodies "like merchandise" into a cargo truck and rushed them away from the village in pre-dawn darkness. They then altered documents to protect themselves, the commission said.

The report and the arrest brought embarrassment for federal government leaders, who have condemned the murders and said they were not condoned at any level of the PRI, which controls both the federal government and the southern state of Chiapas, where the violence occurred.

The new information suggests that the local police were officially encouraged to back paramilitary groups that have sprung up in Indian villages to confront followers of the Zapatista rebels.

The Human Rights Commission accused the highest officials and security commanders under the former governor, Julio Cesar Ruiz Ferro, of "a grave accumulation of inefficiency and neglect" before and after the killings, as well as "passivity and indolence" in reacting to the massacre.

Pub Date: 1/13/98

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