More than nine months since the disappearance and likely massacre of 43 teachers college students in Mexico, a team of top-notch human-rights investigators tasked with looking into the case said they are still waiting for access to soldiers who might have witnessed or even participated in the attacks.
The five members of a special independent panel convened by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or IACHR, said in a press conference in Mexico City that Mexican authorities have not answered a request they filed three months ago to gather testimonies from soldiers.
Panelists asked to interview 36 infantry troops from the Mexican army's 27th battalion who could have been involved in the attacks against students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School in southern Guerrero state on September 26, 2014.
The Ayotzinapa disappearances became an international lightning rod for protests against the Mexican government, for its handling of a case called emblematic of persistent corruption and impunity in the country.
Local police officers and drug gang members are accused of shooting on buses carrying the students, killing six, before abducting 43 others who have not been heard from since. One of the missing was identified by Mexico's government last December, but the student's family have refused to acknowledge his death.
More than 100 people have been detained overall in connection to the case.
"The government is still analyzing our request for the interviews. If they do not accept it, we will put their response in the final report that we will deliver on September 2nd," one of the investigators on the panel, Claudia Paz y Paz, told VICE News.
"But I have hope that we will be able to interview them, because it is a major part of our investigation," she added.
Some of the parents of the missing students claim the government is attempting to obstruct information related to possible involvement that military units might have had on the night of the attacks in the city of Iguala, Guerrero.
In January, parents of the missing tried to storm the 27th battalion base in Iguala, under the belief the students may have been taken there and massacred by soldiers. Accounts have so far only confirmed that soldiers from the base briefly detained and interrogated some survivors on the night of the shooting.
Government officials have pointed out relatives of the students had access to that same base on September 27, 2014 — the day after the attacks — and saw nothing out of the ordinary.
"Obviously the government is hiding information about the soldiers' work, because they are the ones who abducted them, and still have them," Felipe de la Cruz, a spokesman for the parents, told VICE News on Monday, echoing a familiar claim.
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Over the weekend, parents and supporters held their ninth "global action" for the missing young men — a vigil in downtown Mexico City lasting 43 hours.
The team sent by the IACHR to independently investigate the Ayotzinapa case is formed by five human-rights experts who are prominent and respected figures in previous investigations of state massacres in Latin America.
They are Paz y Paz, the first woman attorney general of Guatemala who sought war-crimes charges against a former Guatemalan president; Carlos Martin Beristain, a Spanish psychologist who has taken part in past truth commissions in Paraguay, Guatemala, and Peru; Chilean Francisco Cox Vial, best known for working on the extradition to Spain of former dictator Augusto Pinochet; Angela Buitrago, a Colombian attorney who has investigated crimes in that country's ongoing war; and Alejandro Valencia Villa, also a Colombian specialist.
The panel's press conference came just one week after Mexico's Secretariat of Defense, as the army is formally known, acknowledged one of the 43 students was enlisted in its ranks as an active duty soldier.
The revelation raised the specter of possible infiltration in the students' activities by outside groups or agencies. However, parents of the missing flatly rejected the military's statements, calling the allegation an attempt to divide the parents and their movement.
The army did not reveal the name of the Ayotzinapa victim who was supposedly also a soldier, citing privacy and the safety of his surviving family. Paz y Paz told VICE News that the commission's panel still had no knowledge of any military ties among the 43 victims.
Mexico's government responded to the IACHR by saying that the army had no problem with offering access to soldiers related to the Iguala attacks investigation, but warned that such access would have to go through necessary legal steps in order to not compromise the official concurrent investigation.
Roberto Campa, Mexico's undersecretary for human rights, told reporters on Monday that the country was open to making soldiers accessible to the international panel.
"The point is not the openness [of the military], it has to do instead with the manner in which the request is made, and that it is carried out under the strictest compliance with the law," Campa said.
Gonzalo Ponce, a spokesman for Mexico's interior ministry, said on Tuesday that Mexico's defense secretariat was still reviewing the IACHR request and had yet to respond.
Daniel Hernandez contributed to this report. Follow Melissa del Pozo on Twitter @melissadps.
Topics: americas, mexico, the missing 43, ayotzinapa, ayotzinapa normal school, military, soldiers, infantry, 27th battalion, inter-american commission on human rights, felipe de la cruz, human rights, claudia paz y paz, carlos martin beristain, francisco cox vial, angela buitrago, alejandro valencia villa, massacre, extrajudicial killings, guerrero, iguala, military base, sedena