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Mexico clears way for abduction arrests
( 2003-11-06 11:42) (Agencies)

Mexico's Supreme Court cleared the way Wednesday for the possible arrest of former officials implicated in the disappearance of leftist activists in the 1960s and 1970s.

The court ruled that kidnappings are not subject to Mexico's statute of limitations, handing a victory to prosecutors investigating Mexico's so-called "dirty war" against the activists.

Wednesday's unanimous ruling by a four-justice committee of the 11-member Supreme Court allowed arrest warrants to be issued in the 1975 kidnapping of the son of a renowned Mexican human rights activist. Jesus Piedra Ibarra has never been found.

"The crime of illegal deprivation of liberty, cannot be subject to statute of limitations ... until the victim is freed" or found, the court said in the ruling.

Mexico's human rights fighter Rosario Ibarra de Piedra shows a photo of her son Jesus Piedra Ibarra, who disappeared 1975 so-called ``dirty war'' against activists, at her home Wednesday Nov. 5, 2003, in Mexico City.  [AP]
Rights activists applauded the ruling, which apparently does not apply to other political crimes besides kidnapping.

"This establishes an important precedent," said Felix Hernandez, who was a political prisoner in the 1960s. "The fundamental thing now is what comes next. There are many other cases from the same period, 1968 to 1982. We are in a position to take the next step."

The leader of the 68 Committee, a group seeking justice for those killed in the 1968 massacre of students in Mexico City, said the ruling had "enormous importance."

"The paths to justice are opening, slowly, but they're opening," Raul Alvarez said.

The ruling turned the case back to a lower court, which had refused in April to issue arrest warrants against police and intelligence agents who purportedly kidnapped Piedra in the northern city of Monterrey 28 years ago.

It is up to that lower court to decide whether the evidence warrants issuing arrest orders.

A special prosecutor's office created to look into the government campaign against leftists had asked the lower court judge to issue warrants for Luis de la Barreda and Miguel Nazar Haro.

Those men led the now-defunct Federal Security Directorate, an intelligence agency, between 1970-77 and 1978-82, respectively.

The judge denied the request, saying a 22-year statute of limitations on the 1975 crime had run out in 1997, well before prosecutors even began looking into the case.

Piedra, the alleged leader of the guerrilla group Liga 23 de Septiembre, disappeared in 1975 in the northern city of Monterrey. Liga 23 de Septiembre is blamed for several kidnappings and bank robberies in the 1970s designed to finance its activities.

His mother, Rosario Ibarra de la Piedra had waged a crusade for justice in her son's case since he disappeared. She said the ruling was "overdue" and expressed skepticism about what would come of it.

"I don't think it's so historic, but in the end, the ruling was good," Ibarra said, "It recognized that there is no statute of limitations until my son is found."

President Vicente Fox appointed a special federal prosecutor in November 2001 to investigate the cases of the disappeared and the killings of dozens of student activists in 1968 and 1971.

The rights group Human Rights Watch has said the statute of limitations issue is key to the success of the special prosecutor's investigation.

The group said Wednesday the ruling was a major victory.

"A lot work remains to be done for the special prosecutor to determine what happened and who was responsible for these crimes," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Americas Division. "But now at least these cases can go forward."

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