MEXICO CITY (AP) — Six of the 43 college students who “disappeared” in 2014 were kept alive in a warehouse for days and then turned over to a local army commander who ordered them killed, a Mexican government official leading a truth commission said Friday.

The surprise comments by Interior Undersecretary Alejandro Encinas are the first time an official has directly linked the military to Mexico’s worst human rights scandals, and came with little fanfare as he defended the commission’s report issued a week ago at length.

Last week, Encinas made no mention of turning the six students over to Col. José Rodríguez Perez, despite declaring the abductions and disappearances a “state crime” and saying the military watched them happen without intervention.

On Friday, Encinas said authorities had been closely monitoring students at the radical teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa since they were abducted by local police in the city of Iguala that night and left the campus. Among the kidnapped students was a soldier who had infiltrated the school, and Encinas insisted that the military did not follow its own protocol and did not attempt to rescue him.

“There is also information confirmed with emergency 089 telephone calls where six of the 43 missing students were allegedly kept for several days and were alive in an old warehouse and from there they were transferred to the colonel,” Encinas said. “The six students were reportedly alive for four days after the events and were killed and disappeared on the orders of a colonel, allegedly Colonel José Rodríguez Perez.”

The Defense Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the allegations on Friday.

The military’s role in the disappearance of the students has long caused tension between the families and the government. From the beginning, there were questions about the military’s knowledge of what happened and its possible involvement. Parents of the students had demanded for years that they be allowed to explore the military base at Iguala. As of 2019, he was admitted to Encinas and the Truth Commission.

The commission’s report said that the Army recorded an anonymous distress call on September 30, 2014, four days after the abduction of the students. The caller said the students were housed in a large concrete warehouse in what was described as “Pueblo Viejo.” The caller described the location.

That entry was followed by several pages of redacted material, but the conclusion of that portion of the report was as follows: “As can be seen, clear collusion existed among agents of the Mexican state with the criminal group Guerreros Unidos, who tolerated, permitted and participated in it. Incidents of violence and student disappearances as well as the government’s attempt to hide the truth about the incidents.

Later, a summary of how the commission’s report differed from the findings of the original investigation, the colonel mentions.

“On September 30, the ‘Colonel’ mentions that he will take care of cleaning everything up and that he had already taken responsibility for the six students who survived,” the report said.

In a witness statement to federal investigators in December 2014, Capt. Jose Martínez Crespo, who was stationed at the base in Iguala, was the base commander of the 27th Infantry Battalion at the time, Col. Jose Rodriguez Perez.

On September 26, 2014, local police evicted the students from a commandeered bus in Iguala. Eight years later, the reason for the police action remains unclear. Although pieces of charred bones were matched to three students, their bodies were never found.

Last week, federal agents arrested former Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam, who oversaw the original investigation. On Wednesday, a judge ordered him to stand trial for enforced disappearance, alleged torture and official misconduct. Prosecutors have accused Murillo Karam of fabricating a false story about what happened to the students in order to speed up the case.

Officials also said last week that arrest warrants had been issued for 20 soldiers and officers, five local officials, 33 local police officers and 11 state police officers, as well as 14 gang members. Neither the military nor prosecutors have said how many of those suspects are in custody.

It was also not immediately clear if Rodriguez Perez was among those found.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has given Mexico’s military a major mandate. Not only is the armed forces at the center of his security strategy, he has taken over the administration of the ports and is tasked with building a new airport and tourist train for the capital on the Yucatan Peninsula.

The President has often said that he believes the Army and Navy are the least corrupt institutions.

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