MEXICO CITY (AFP) - Forensic experts have identified one of 43 missing Mexican students among charred remains found in a landfill, an official said on Saturday, partly solving a case that has roiled the government for weeks.
Federal authorities sent badly burned remains to an Austrian medical university last month after finding them in a garbage dump and river in the southern state of Guerrero. "One of the pieces (of bones) belongs to one of the students," a federal official told AFP on condition of anonymity. Sources close to the families identified the victim as Alexander Mora.
If all 43 are confirmed dead, it would rank among the worst mass murders in a drug war that has killed more than 80,000 people and left 22,000 others missing since 2006 in Mexico.
The case has drawn international condemnation, highlighted Mexico's struggle with corruption and undermined President Enrique Pena Nieto's assurances that his security policy was bearing fruit.
The authorities say the aspiring teachers vanished after gang-linked police attacked their buses in the city of Iguala on Sept 26, allegedly under orders from the mayor and his wife in a night of terror that left six other people dead.
The police then delivered the 43 young men to members of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, who told investigators they took them in two trucks to a landfill, killed them, burnt their bodies and dumped them in a river.
Despite the confessions prosecutors stopped short of declaring the students dead, saying they would wait for DNA test results from Austria's Innsbruck University.
Families of the students led a new protest in Mexico City on Saturday, the latest in a wave of demonstrations against Mr Pena Nieto's handling of the case.
The parents have refused to believe their sons are dead, chanting at every protest "they took them alive, we want them back alive".
The case has turned into the biggest challenge of Mr Pena Nieto's two-year presidency.
His approval rating has plunged to around 40 per cent, the worst for a president in almost two decades.
Mr Pena Nieto returned to Guerrero last week for the first time since the students went missing more than two months ago.
"What happened in Iguala was a terrible event that has caused indignation and led us to an introspection because such things should never happen again," the President said in Acapulco on Thursday.
The case has put security back at the center of Mexico's agenda, shattering Mr Pena Nieto's attempt to move the narrative away from the drug war to his internationally acclaimed energy and economic reforms.
The Mexican leader will host the Ibero-American summit in the eastern city of Veracruz on Monday and Tuesday.
Late last month, Mr Pena Nieto unveiled a plan to enact constitutional reforms aimed at disbanding the country's notoriously corrupt municipal forces, replacing them with state agencies.
The legislation, which Congress must approve, would also allow the federal government to take over gang-infiltrated municipalities.
But security experts have voiced skepticism, saying the plan should tackle corruption at the state and federal levels too.