Mexican General Is Relieved of Command

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THE Mexican Army stripped a top general of command Saturday, and three officials of the attorney general's office resigned, as officials reacted to a blue-ribbon report about the killing of seven drug agents by the military.Speaking at Defense Ministry headquarters here a day after the government-appointed National Human Rights Commission blamed senior military officers for the killing of the agents, Defense Minister Antonio Riviello Bazan said Gen. Alfredo Moran Acevedo, a regional military commander, had been relieved of his command Thursday pending an investigation of charges against him by military prosecutors. "Other commanders" have also been relieved of their posts, he said. He gave no details but stressed that the Army would not tolerate "impunity." However, he did not say whether the general and other officers involved in the incident - which has raised questions about corruption and possible Army involvement in drug trafficking - were under arrest. The drug agents, members of the Federal Judicial Police, were killed in a two-hour gun battle with soldiers Nov. 7 after landing on a remote airstrip in eastern Mexico in pursuit of smugglers who had arrived minutes earlier in a cocaine-laden plane. In its 104-page report, the National Human Rights Commission fell short of openly accusing the soldiers involved of protecting drug traffickers. But it suggested that at least some soldiers at the airstrip had allowed the drug traffickers, a man and a woman, to intentionally escape. The report stressed that the Army firing intensified after General Moran Acevedo arrived at the scene with reinforcements, and said repeated attempts by the agents to surrender and identify themselves to the soldiers were ignored during the firefight. Moran Acevedo failed to stop the Army fire even after he received two telephone calls from officials in Mexico City and the Veracruz capital advising him that the targets his men were shooting at were narcotics policemen. The case has caught the attention of US officials, because US Customs agents had been involved in the chase. And if the case shows the Mexican Army is helping drug dealers, such revelations could damage close anti-drug cooperation between Mexico and the United States. The Mexican government finds the timing of the allegations particularly embarrassing, coming on the eve of a trip to the United States by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. "People may forget about this in Mexico, but they won't forget about it abroad," political commentator Sergio Sarmiento said, adding the case could have "devastating" consequences for a free-trade accord Mr. Salinas is trying to negotiate with the United States and Canada.

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