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Mexican army accepts criticism of human rights commission in killings

The defense department says, however, it doesn't agree with all findings of human rights commission on the June slayings

Mexico's Defense Department says it will obey a recommendation by the country's National Human Rights Commission that the army investigate the commission's allegation that soldiers executed up to 15 suspected gang members in late June.

The department says it will abide by the recommendation, which requires it to compensate victims of the June 30 slayings or their relatives. The army is also required to do more to train soldiers to avoid such killings and to ensure military personnel don't alter crime scenes.

The department said Thursday it does not agree with all the findings in the commission's report, but "has decided to accept (the recommendation) out of a special interest in cooperating to clear up the case, and if any military personnel have engaged in illegal conduct ... they be punished in accordance with the law."

The commission ruled in late October that five soldiers had probably executed 15 suspects after a gunfight at a grain warehouse in southern Mexico.

Authorities initially said that all 22 suspected gang members died in a shootout with soldiers in a confrontation near Tlatlaya, a rural community about 95 miles southwest of Mexico City. On the southern fringes of the state Mexico, which borders Guerrero and Michoacan, Tlatlaya is in an area plagued by gang violence.

However, the rights commission found that someone, probably soldiers, had not only executed the youthful suspects, but also beat some before killing them and broke one suspect's neck. The report also found that someone, probably soldiers, moved the bodies in the warehouse, altered the crime scene and planted guns next to some of the corpses.

While seven low-ranking soldiers, including a lieutenant, have been charged in the case, the rights commission quoted witnesses as saying a possibly higher-ranking officer might have participated in the killings. The commission said the army should investigate the possible participation of anyone higher up in the chain of command.

The federal Attorney General's Office has said eight suspects were executed, apparently by only three soldiers.

Charges have been brought against the seven soldiers in a civilian court. All seven face charges of "actions improper to the public service," but the three who allegedly carried out the executions have been charged with aggravated homicide. They all face separate disciplinary charges in military courts.

The formal charges come during heightened international awareness of human rights issues in Mexico. The Tlatlaya deaths are just one of several cases, including the disappearance of 43 college students in Guerrero state in late September who remain missing, that have called into question the respect for human rights in Mexico.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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