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Mexico: 2 Men Arrested for Involvement in Multiple Murders - 2003-04-23

In the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (just across from El Paso, Texas,) police have detained two men whom they accuse of involvement in at least three murders of young women. Police say the men were harvesting organs from the women for use in medical transplants. However, citizens groups remain skeptical about what they regard as a bizarre theory.

In one of the stranger twists in the story of the murdered women of Juarez, authorities in the state of Chihuahua say they have detained two men who were involved in not only rape and murder, but organ trafficking. They have not provided details of the evidence they have to support such charges, but Chihuahua State Prosecutor Jesus Silva says federal authorities are also involved in the investigation.

He says this crime involved a trafficking operation which falls under the jurisdiction of federal authorities, who, he says, are cooperating in the investigation.

The Mexican federal government has remained on the sidelines for the past ten years as more than 300 women have been killed in Juarez. Experts believe more than 80 of the murders could have been the work of one or more serial killer. State authorities have arrested various men over the years and declared the cases closed, but the killings have continued.

Victims' families and human rights activists have accused local police of incompetence and demanded more federal involvement.

The two men in custody are Angel Vazquez, a 29-year-old street vendor who police say has provided information about the killings and 39-year-old ironworker Hernaldo Valles Contreras, who they suspect of links to organized crime. But local activists note that police arrested two other men over a year ago for the same killings mentioned in this latest investigation.

An attorney representing the men, Francisco Hernandez, says the information provided by Mr. Vasquez was obtained through coercion. He says most of the information in this investigation is unreliable because it has come from a man who has been tortured by police while he was in custody.

Many people in Juarez remain skeptical about the organ-trafficking allegations. There has never been a proven case of organ harvesting in Mexico in spite of widespread rumors of such activity. There have even been cases of mobs in rural areas lynching men suspected of kidnapping people for their organs. Medical experts, however, say harvesting organs requires technology and facilities that are not readily available in the areas where such crimes have allegedly been carried out.

Juarez womens' activists say the killing spree in their city has continued because of a climate of impunity. They say killers may be coming to the border city simply because they know they can kill there without much fear of being caught and punished.