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Mexico Arrests 4 in Killing of Human Rights Activist : Crime: The lawyer was slain May 21. Her death prompted the creation of a national panel to probe abuses.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two former state police officers and two other alleged gunmen have been arrested for the murder of a prominent human rights activist whose death brought Mexico international condemnation, Sinaloa state officials announced Monday.

The suspects gunned down Norma Corona Sapien, a lawyer and president of the independent Human Right Commission of Sinaloa, in downtown Culiacan on May 21, officials said. But they conceded that the so-called intellectual authors of the crime have not been found.

State police indicated Corona’s death was ordered by a drug kingpin because she had uncovered information connecting him to the murders of three Venezuelans and a Mexican lawyer last February.

“She had touched powerful interests,” Fernando Torres Gomez, an investigator for the state attorney general’s office, told reporters at a press conference here.

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But Jorge Higuera, Corona’s colleague in a Sinaloa lawyers association, said the motive for and the mastermind of the killing were still unresolved.

“There is great uncertainty about who and why. We have the material authors, but we want the intellectual authors, the ones who paid. The motive has not been established,” Higuera said.

He noted afterward that Corona had told her colleagues she was “very concerned and afraid” of the Federal Judicial Police, whom she suspected in the four earlier killings.

In response to national and international pressure, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari created a national human rights commission last month to pursue this case and other alleged abuses. His government’s human rights record has come under sharp attack from the U.S.-based Americas Watch and other rights groups.

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Eager to show progress, the federal attorney general’s office flew dozens of reporters to this northwestern farming state for the press conference with Gov. Francisco Labastida Ochoa and state police officials.

Two of the suspects--Jacobo Chavez Lafarga, alias “The Horse,” and Jorge Rosario Quintero--are former police officers. The other suspects are Camilo Beltran Gastelum and Fermin Beltran Murillo.

A fifth suspect, Santos Arellano Bazan, also a former state police officer, was killed in a shoot-out in Tijuana last Friday, police said. Higuera said he believes that Santos was slain when police tried to capture him.

Several other suspects remain at large.

Officials said the charges are based on the suspects’ confessions but that they do not have the murder weapons or evidence such as ballistics tests connecting them to the killing. Police said they have found the blue pickup truck that witness said was used by the gunmen and that police uniforms were found in a safehouse used by the suspects.

Authorities assert that alleged drug trafficker Luis (El Guero) Palmas is behind the four killings in February and Corona’s murder.

The victims of the February killings were abducted from their homes at gunpoint, and their tortured bodies were discovered nearly three weeks later. Family members said the kidnapers identified themselves as Federal Judicial Police.

No one has been arrested in connection with those killings.

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Corona had been investigating the murders. She was gunned down in the street as she tried to flee from gunmen who followed her when she left her office.


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