Mexico Official Quits After Massacre Charges

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Climaxing a scandal that has outraged Mexicans and international human rights groups, a prominent ruling party governor was forced to resign Tuesday as authorities investigated his alleged role in the massacre of 17 left-wing peasants.

The resignation of Gov. Ruben Figueroa, an important supporter of President Ernesto Zedillo in the southwestern state of Guerrero, appeared to defuse a crisis that had grown increasingly embarrassing for the president.

Zedillo had initially declined to intervene in the case, citing his policy of providing more autonomy to local governments. But critics suggested that he didn't want to go after a member of Figueroa's politically prominent family.

Figueroa submitted his resignation to the state congress in Guerrero. He made no comment but in the past has proclaimed his innocence.

Opposition figures and human rights activists have charged that the ironfisted governor planned or covered up the massacre. The victims were shot and killed in June 1995 in Aguas Blancas, about 17 miles from the beach resort of Acapulco, while on their way to a demonstration.

The brutal killings, and a series of subsequent threats made to witnesses and the victims' families, prompted protests from such groups as Amnesty International.

Figueroa had initially suggested that security forces opened fire after they were assaulted by the peasants at a police roadblock.

That argument was supported by a videotape shot by police, which seemed to show a peasant attacking the agents. It also showed rifles in the dead peasants' hands.

But the government's Human Rights Commission accused state authorities of doctoring the original tape and manipulating other evidence.

Earlier this month, the giant Televisa network broadcast an uncut version of the tape, showing that the peasants held no guns. The tape prompted a flood of outraged newspaper editorials and fresh protests against Figueroa.

Human rights groups and opposition politicians applauded the governor's removal.

"[This] constitutes a first, positive step toward reestablishing a state of law in Guerrero," the left-wing Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, said in a statement. The peasants were believed to be PRD sympathizers.

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