Mexico's rights agency faults army in fuel-theft killings

Soldiers executed two men and planted rifles on their bodies during a 2017 shootout between authorities and fuel thieves in the Mexican state of Puebla, the country's National Human Rights Commission said Wednesday.

A total of six civilians and four soldiers died in the running confrontation that erupted in the town of Palmarito when authorities tried to arrest people who had drilled illegal taps into state-owned pipelines.

The governmental rights agency recommended that the army pay reparations to the victims' families, and it said other people suffered abuses after they were detained. A total of 26 people were wounded.

Some of the killings were captured on video. One shows a suspect who played dead and then got up and shot a soldier in the back. Another shows a soldier appearing to execute a suspect lying on the ground.

"No crime should be fought with another crime," the commission said.

It said that the army had cooperated in the investigation, but that federal prosecutors had refused to turn over information.

Fuel theft, which now increasingly includes drilling into pipelines carrying gasoline, diesel and even cooking gas, has become a growing problem across Mexico. Thieves drilled into pipelines 8,742 times in the first seven months of 2018, a 50 percent increase over the same period of 2017, officials say.

Gangs that engage in fuel theft have become increasingly organized and violent, and residents of impoverished towns where they operate often join them in confronting authorities.

The commission said it "notes with concern the prevailing impunity in fuel theft, given that suspects detained are not charged."

Prosecutors have been slow to bring soldiers to account for rights abuses in Mexico. The rights commission determined that soldiers executed at least 12 suspects after they surrendered on June 30, 2014, in the town of Tlatlaya in Mexico State, but charges against the soldiers were later dismissed.