MEXICO CITY – Argentine forensic experts who have studied a dump in southern Mexico where government officials claim the bodies of 43 missing students were burned said Saturday that results from a new investigation of the site are incomplete and inconclusive.
The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team released a statement saying the latest investigation by a team of experts "neither confirms nor denies" the official version of what happened to the students from the Rural Normal School at Ayotzinapa.
The Argentines were called in shortly after the teachers' college students disappeared in Iguala in Guerrero state on Sept. 26, 2014. An investigation by Mexico's government concluded they were killed by a local drug gang after being confused with members of a rival group. They were purportedly taken by corrupt local police and handed over to the gang, which incinerated their bodies at a dump in the nearby town of Cocula and threw the remains into a river.
The Argentines — who were brought in at the request of the students' families and worked with government investigators — studied the dump and said first in January 2015 and later in a full report released in February 2016 that the evidence did not support the official version of events.
In September 2015, another team of independent experts sent by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or IACHR, released a report that dismantled the government's investigation. The report explained how state and federal police, as well as the military, were monitoring the students' movements before they were attacked. But no one intervened when Iguala and Cocula police attacked, killing six people and participating in the disappearance of the 43.
The case drew international condemnation and the government's perceived mishandling of it dogged the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto.
Attorney General Arely Gomez responded by ordering a new investigation by yet another team of experts. They began working in February.
On Friday, a representative of the new team said it had found evidence of a large fire at the Cocula dump. Ricardo Damian Torres also said the remains of at least 17 burned bodies were found in the dump, but he didn't specify when the bodies were incinerated.
Torres said tests would be conducted in the coming weeks to determine whether it would have been possible to burn all 43 students at the dump.
"There is sufficient evidence, including physically observable, to affirm that there was a controlled fire event of great dimensions in the place called the Cocula dump," he said, speaking for the six-member fire-expert team.
Later the same day, the IACHR's team of experts released a statement saying that by holding the news conference Mexico's attorney general's office had broken their agreement to seek consensus on how this latest investigation would be handled.
The statement said Torres had alluded to information that had not been analyzed by the IACHR experts and was not even a consensus among the fire experts.
Then on Saturday, the Argentine experts released a statement listing what they said were the shortcomings of the new investigation.
The statement said investigators didn't specify when the fire took place — if it coincided with the disappearance of the students — or if the 17 bodies belong to any of the missing students. It asked the new team to provide more information as to how it reached its findings.
The Argentines said their own investigators found evidence of multiple fires at the site but from the years before 2014. They also found the charred bodies of at least 19 people, but the dump was a known gang body disposal site and they could not determine when the remains were put there.