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Mexican police held in deaths of peasants

Published Oct. 4, 2005

Two police commanders and eight officers in the southern state of Guerrero have been charged with murder in the shooting deaths of 17 peasants on their way last week to an anti-government rally.

The charges, filed Saturday, appear to back reports by survivors that police ambushed and fired on a bus carrying the peasants to a Wednesday protest by the leftist Democratic Revolution Party.

They also provided another indication of rampant police misconduct, despite government promises to clean up corruption and enact judicial reforms.

Angry peasants set fire Saturday night to the town hall in Coyuca de Benitez to protest the slayings. The dead were members of the Peasant Organization of the Southern Sierra. The town is 15 miles from the Pacific port of Acapulco.

"Because the color of blood is never forgotten," peasant leader Benigno Guzman Martinez intoned. "Who will avenge these deaths?"

"The people!" shouted a crowd of thousands.

State Attorney General Antonio Alcocer Salazar, who filed the murder and abuse of authority charges, denied that an ambush had occurred, saying the peasants were armed.

Officials said the peasants attacked police with gunfire and machetes when their bus was stopped at a checkpoint at Coyuca de Benitez. The state government released a photo showing a dead peasant with a pistol in his hand.

But El Sol de Mexico newspaper published two photographs Saturday taken by one of their photographers that appeared to indicate the gun was placed in the man's hand after the massacre.

The first photograph showed the peasant lying dead with his hands empty; the second showed the peasant lying dead but holding the gun.