166 skulls found in mass grave in Mexico's Veracruz

Investigators find remains of at least 166 people in 32 burial pits in eastern state racked by bloody drug cartel wars.

    The remains were found in 32 burial pits in central Veracruz [Handout/ AP]
    The remains were found in 32 burial pits in central Veracruz [Handout/ AP]

    Authorities in Mexico have found at least 166 skulls in a mass grave site in the eastern state of Veracruz.

    Jorge Winckler, state attorney general, said on Thursday that investigators discovered the remains in 32 graves in the central part of Veracruz, following an August 8 tip from an unidentified person.

    "Aside from human remains, we have found more than 200 items of clothing, 114 pieces of identification, as well as different accessories and personal items," Winckler said.

    He did not reveal the precise location of the burial pits, citing the safety of personnel still working at the site. 

    The bodies were buried there at least two years ago, Winckler said. He did not rule out finding more corpses.

    Veracruz, an important trafficking route for drug gangs moving narcotics north towards the US border, has long been racked by bloody wars between drug cartels.

    Some 3,600 people have gone missing in the Gulf Coast state since 2006, when Mexico deployed its army to fight the country's powerful drug cartels, causing a record spike in violence

    More than 200,000 people have been murdered, including a record 28,702 last year.

    Another 37,000 people are reported as missing.

    Al Jazeera's John Holman, reporting from Mexico's capital, Mexico City, said the 114 identification cards were "like gold for families searching for their lost loved ones because it provides clues for their possible resting place".

    The latest mass grave site wasn't the biggest burial pit found in Veracruz, Holman said, noting investigators found more than 250 skulls in unmarked graves in March last year.

    "It comes now to the incoming administration of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to show the political will that's been lacking throughout this government to try and get to grips with this problem, to try and help people to find their lost relatives and investigate this sort of mass grave," Holman said.

    Winckler called on residents whose family members have disappeared to come forward to for DNA testing in the hope shedding light on the identity of the remains.

    Investigators found more than 200 items of clothing and 114 ID cards at the site [Handout/ AP]

    Authorities used drones and ground-penetrating radar to locate the pits and began digging about a month ago.

    They released photographs of investigators combing through the thick vegetation at the site, wearing white protective suits and gloves.

    Lawlessness in Veracruz spiked under former governor Javier Duarte, who governed the Gulf coast state for President Enrique Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party until 2016.

    Two former state police chiefs and a string of ex-officials have been charged with running hit squads that abducted and presumably killed unwanted individuals during Duarte's administration.

    Duarte himself is in jail awaiting trial on allegations of involvement with organised crime and siphoning off millions of dollars during his tenure, and prosecutors recently added charges of ordering the hit squads to "disappear" his enemies.

    "These forced disappearances were not only carried out with his knowledge but under his orders," they said in June.

    He denies any wrongdoing.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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