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Mexican officer and 7 soldiers in military court in killing of 22 people in June

State police stand inside a warehouse where a black cross covers a wall near blood stains on the ground in Tlatlaya, Mexico. The army initially said 22 people were killed on June 30 in a gun battle between soldiers and an armed gang. But journalists found evidence that suggested a one-by-one killing of gang members.
State police stand inside a warehouse where a black cross covers a wall near blood stains on the ground in Tlatlaya, Mexico. The army initially said 22 people were killed on June 30 in a gun battle between soldiers and an armed gang. But journalists found evidence that suggested a one-by-one killing of gang members.
(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)

A Mexican army officer and seven soldiers were brought before a military court Thursday in connection with the shootings of 22 people in June -- an incident officials portrayed as a gun battle.

The Mexican Defense Ministry said the eight men were under a form of detention pending investigation of the June 30 killings in the town of Tlatlaya, 150 miles southwest of Mexico City.

They were being held on suspicion of “crimes against military discipline, disobedience and violation of official duties,” the ministry said in a statement released Thursday night.

The army initially said the 22 people were killed on June 30 in a fierce gun battle between soldiers and an armed gang and that three kidnap victims were rescued. One soldier was reported wounded.

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But journalists who reached the site found evidence, including blood spatters on walls, that suggested not a battle but a one-by-one killing of the gang members.

Later, a purported witness told the Associated Press and Esquire Latin America that she saw soldiers killing gang members who were wounded or surrendering, among them a 15-year-old girl.

The case drew scornful complaints from numerous human rights organizations, which demanded an investigation.

Allegations of human rights abuses by the military, including torture and extrajudicial killings, have soared in recent years as the army and navy are used as the front-line force in Mexico’s war on drug cartels. It is rare, however, for the government to challenge the military and rarer still for soldiers to be prosecuted.

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The Mexican Supreme Court, under pressure from international judicial bodies, has ordered military personnel accused of crimes involving civilians be tried in civilian courts. But the army has been slow to comply.

Still, the action on the Tlatlaya case was unusually swift. It is the first major case of its nature in the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who has been in office 21 months. He may be attempting to demonstrate a willingness to prosecute military officials that was not the norm in the government of his predecessor, President Felipe Calderon.

Both the federal attorney general’s office and the semi-autonomous National Human Rights Commission are conducting investigations into the Tlatlaya killings.

Twitter: @TracyKWilkinson

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