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Murder of Human Rights Attorney to Test Democracy in Mexico - 2001-10-23

In Mexico City, Police are continuing an investigation into the murder of a prominent human rights attorney, whose body was found last Friday. The case is seen as a test of Mexico's developing democracy.

Officials from both the federal government and the government of the Federal Disitrict, which comprises Mexico City, are condemning the murder of 38-year-old Digna Ochoa y Placido. Police found her body Friday night. They say she had been shot twice. The human rights lawyer had gained international recognition for her work, defending, among others, sympathizers of the leftist Zapatista guerrillas from the southern state of Chiapas and environmental activists.

Mexico City Chief Prosecutor Bernardo Batiz says he regards this as a politically motivated killing. He says there is no doubt that the attack appears to have been political in nature because it was an attack on a person who worked with human rights cases and with persons whom she considered to be the victims of political persecution.

Mr. Batiz says a full investigation is underway. The crime has also been condemned by the government of President Vicente Fox. Interior Minister Santiago Creel has pledged full federal support to the Mexico City investigators. The Fox government, which replaced 71-years of one-party rule last year, has pledged to uphold human rights and the rule of law. Political analysts say the assassination of Ms. Ochoa is a challenge to the government and society as Mexico works to strengthen its democratic foundations.

A letter found near the victim's body threatened other members of the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center, where Ms. Ochoa worked until about a year ago. Mexico City police are now providing protection for some of the center's personnel.