Pubdate: 1 December 1999
Source: Irish Independent (Ireland)
Copyright: Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Ltd
Author: Jan McGirk, in Mexico City


Two mass gravesites near the US border, believed to hold as many as 200
victims of drug murders, are being exhumed by the FBI and the Mexican
Prosecutor General's Office. Twenty-two of the dead are thought to be

Some 500 Mexican soldiers, wearing black hoods over their faces, have been
keeping the burial sites secure since Monday night while special agents dig
up a ranch owned by Jorge Ortiz of El Paso, Texas, son of the late
Cuauhtemoc Ortiz, a Mexican federal security chief who was executed near
the property in 1996. Another nearby site has also been cordoned off.

Although several duffel bags were taken out through the wrought iron front
gates of the Ortiz ranch yesterday, officials would not confirm whether
remains had been found. The property, which houses a shooting range and
four ranch houses, is surrounded by a chain link fence set into a concrete
wall and topped with spirals of razor wire.

Unofficial sources told the Mexican newspaper, La Jornada, that US
officials searching for two missing anti-narcotics agents had spotted the
suspicious grave sites from the air. ``More than 100 people could be buried
in those points,'' Jorge Madrazo Cuellar , the Prosecutor General, said

President Clinton condemned the killings as ``a horrible example'' of the
excesses of Mexico's drug cartels.

``We had a lot of success a few years ago in taking down a number of the
Colombian drug cartels, and one of the adverse consequences of that was a
lot of the operations were moved north into Mexico. There are organised
criminal operations there and they are particularly vicious,'' he said.

Law officers, including investigators from the US Drug Enforcement Agency,
believe they have found a repository for the bodies of suspected informers
silenced by the notorious Juarez Cartel on both sides of the violent
frontier between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.

In the past four years, scores of witnesses in drug cases have vanished
without trace and family pressure groups - fearing many were victims of
assassins hired by the drug gangs - have campaigned for a full investigation.

Mr Madrazo, a former human rights ombudsman, stepped up search efforts last
January after the number of unsolved disappearances in the badlands
surrounding Juarez reached 202, all but one male. His drive has been
hindered, however, by the alleged complicity of low-paid local police
tempted by the substantial bribes on offer from drugs traffickers.

Digging began after a tip-off from a former Mexican policeman.

The ex-policeman said people who were known to have passed information to
American narcotics agents were murdered and dumped in these secret graves.

Among the most violent cities in Latin America, Juarez has seen its murder
rate shoot up since the death in 1997 of Amado Carillo Fuentes, the `Lord
of the Skies', which triggered a struggle for control of his lucrative
cocaine distribution empire.

The drug lord, who was undergoing cosmetic surgery to disguise his
identity, died on the table in a secret operating theatre. Soon afterwards,
the body of the unfortunate doctor who botched the job was found on a
deserted roadside, stuffed into a tar barrel.

In 1997 hitmen gunned down more than a dozen local businessmen through
public assassinations in Juarez restaurants using AK-47 rifles. Since then,
increasing numbers of people have mysteriously disappeared near the sleazy
border town, often after being arrested by local police.
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