Mexico rights agency: 4 soldiers killed unarmed men

Mexico's governmental human rights agency says four soldiers opened fire without justification on a pickup truck in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, killing five men

ByThe Associated Press
March 22, 2023, 10:22 AM

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico’s governmental human rights agency said four soldiers opened fire without justification on a pickup truck in the border city of Nuevo Laredo last month, killing five men and wounding another.

The case of the Feb. 26 shootings has been referred to civilian and military prosecutors. The National Human Rights Commission normally steps back when cases go to prosecution.

But the commission took the unusual step late Tuesday of issuing a report stating that four of the 21 soldiers on patrol that morning opened fire. The report claimed those four soldiers fired a total of 117 shots at the pickup, with three soldiers saying they opened fire to support the first soldier who started shooting.

The report said the soldiers had committed excessive use of force and violated the rights of the men.

The soldiers in four patrol vehicles had followed the pickup in the pre-dawn hours based on just a “suspicion,” and did not follow proper procedure in engaging the vehicle, the report said.

“Without giving verbal orders (to pull over), one soldier opened fire into the back of the private vehicle, and three other soldiers did the same to support the first one,” according to the report.

Soon after the shootings, the Defense Department confirmed that soldiers opened fire on the truck and said it was cooperating with civilian prosecutors investigating the deaths.

The department said the soldiers heard gunshots, and approached a pickup with no license plates and no lights in the pre-dawn hours.

“Upon seeing the army troops, they (the occupants) accelerated in a brusque and evasive way,” according to the statement.

The soldiers said the speeding pickup then crashed into a parked vehicle. Soldiers said that when the heard the crash, they opened fire. The army did not say whether they thought the bang was a gunshot.

There was no indication in crime scene reports of any weapons found in the vehicle after the shootings, and the human rights commission said there was no evidence of any shots fired at the army patrol.

However, the commission noted that the victims tested positive for chemical traces associated with having handled or discharged firearms in the recent past.

The commission recommended that the case be prosecuted and that reparations be made to the victims' families.

Nuevo Laredo is dominated by the violent Northeast drug cartel, an offshoot of the old Zetas cartel. Soldiers and marines have frequently come under fire from heavily armed cartel gunmen in Nuevo Laredo.

The city has also been the scene of human rights violations by the military in the past.

In 2021, Mexico’s navy turned 30 marines over to civilian prosecutors to face justice in the cases of people who disappeared during anti-crime operations in Nuevo Laredo in 2014. Marines were accused of rounding up supposed suspects, some of whom were not heard from again. Through 2018, dozens of people disappeared in Nuevo Laredo.

Under Mexican law, military tribunals can hear only cases that involve violations of military code; . Offenses against civilians must be tried in civilian courts.

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