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Mexico's Defense Minister Denies Reports of Torture - 2002-10-15


Mexico's defense minister is denying reports that soldiers detained for questioning about alleged drug trafficking have been tortured. Mexican human rights officials are investigating the case. In a rare televised appearance on Mexico's Televisa network, Defense Minister and army general Gerardo Clemente Vega denied reports that up to 600 soldiers had been detained at their barracks in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.

He said only 48 of the 600 some soldiers in the unit were detained for questioning and drug tests. Of those, he said, 40 tested positive for drug use. He said the military investigation of the unit in Sinaloa produced evidence of marijuana and other contraband.

The Mexican defense minister denied that any soldier had been tortured as part of the investigation.

Still, a team of experts from the Mexican National Human Rights Commission is travelling to Sinaloa to conduct its own investigation of the incident. Family members of some soldiers accuse the military police of using torture and "cruel and degrading treatment" in their interrogations of the suspects.

The soldiers detained for alleged drug use and drug trafficking are part of the 65th Infantry Battalion posted near the city of Guamuchil, Sinaloa. The state of Sinaloa is the source of both marijuana and heroin and has produced some of Mexico's most notorious drug traffickers.

The Mexican military has played an active role in Sinaloa and elsewhere to help state, local and federal police combat the illicit drug trade. The 65th Battalion was involved mostly in operations to find and destroy drug crops in the rugged mountain areas near the base.

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