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The BBC's Peter Greste
"This is no ordinary murder inquiry"
 real 28k

Saturday, 4 December, 1999, 04:02 GMT
Mass grave victims 'tortured'
Police guard a convoy of cars at the ranch The FBI chief rode into La Capana in a convoy of cars

Mexican Attorney-General Jorge Madrazo has said the six male bodies found buried in a mass grave in northern Mexico may have been tortured.

He said there were signs the victims had been asphyxiated before being shot and buried.

The exhumation was the latest stage of a long-running investigation into the disappearance of up to 100 people, including several Americans, supposedly killed on the orders of the powerful Juarez drugs cartel.

Louis Freeh at a press conference at the grave site Louis Freeh said searches may begin on the US side of the border
The attorney-general has also defended US participation in the murder inquiry, rejecting charges that it violated the country's sovereignty.

Since the beginning of the week, 65 agents from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have been helping Mexican security officials scour four locations where bodies are believed to be buried.

At one location, a ranch outside Juarez, in northern Mexico, six bodies stacked on top of each other were discovered in a single grave.

Police have also discovered abandoned cars riddled with bullet holes.

Juarez, a city of three million people, lies across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, and is a major route for smuggling cocaine into the US.

FBI and Mexican police inside the compound The FBI is working with Mexican police
On Friday, the Mexican attorney-general and FBI chief Louis Freeh gave a joint press conference some 30 metres away from the grave site.

Mr Madrazo stressed the close level of co-operation between the two law enforcement agencies, following criticism in Mexico that the FBI was meddling in the country's internal affairs.

The attorney-general said it was impossible to tackle international drug smuggling without international co-operation.

"I'm not selling out my country, on the contrary I am vigorously fighting drug trafficking," Mr Madrazo said.

"Binational cooperation doesn't affect sovereignty. What affects sovereignty is allowing crimes to go unpunished," he said.

Mr Freeh, who rode in to the La Capana ranch in a convoy of cars, while a helicopter packed with snipers circled overhead, said the FBI was only providing technical and scientific assistance in the Mexican-led operation.

He also said it was possible that the probe could lead to searches or excavations on the US side of the border.

Police role

The BBC's Peter Greste in Mexico says there is intense pressure from both the public and the FBI to finish the inquiry with some high powered drugs barons behind bars.

But one of the biggest problems facing the investigators is that police may have played a role in the murders and have been protecting the drug cartels.

The attorney-general of the state of Chihuahua has already conceded that state and federal police may have been involved in the killings.

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See also:
02 Dec 99 |  Americas
Grisly finds in Mexican body search
02 Dec 99 |  Americas
Mexican body count rises
15 Feb 99 |  Americas
US and Mexico: A porous frontier
03 Dec 99 |  Americas
Mexican mass graves: Possible police link

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