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Demonstrators in Mexico demand accounting of massacre 29 years ago

October 3, 1997

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Tens of thousands of students marched in downtown Mexico City to demand a full government accounting for the 1968 massacre of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators.

Several people were injured Thursday when marchers attacked cars and buses, and some stores were looted.

The march marked the 29th anniversary of the massacre at Tlatelolco Square, when government soldiers opened fire on student demonstrators, killing up to 300 people.

By some accounts, the outrage sparked by the massacres sowed the seeds of mistrust in the government and Mexico’s longtime ruling party that culminated this year with election of the first opposition-led Chamber of Deputies.

And on Thursday, that chamber in turn began to press the government to divulge its account of what happened in 1968. The lower house of Congress set up a committee to consider declassifying all documents about the massacre and making Oct. 2 a national day of mourning.

To the students who marched from Tlatelolco Square toward Mexico City’s central Zocalo plaza Thursday night, it couldn’t come too soon.

``It’s time the government accepts responsibility for its actions, and we would like to know the truth,″ said Marta Telles, 23.

Some, however, said a government accounting wouldn’t right the wrongs of Tlatelolco.

``I’m not sure what we would gain,″ said Manuel Guzman, 28. ``Do we need to know in order to learn how to forgive or who to punish? We’re all guilty in a way. It’s time to build and offer constructive criticism, to think positively and build a better future for our children.″

Calls for an accounting of the 1968 massacre have merged this year with anger over the impunity of police officers who allegedly killed a group of young men in revenge for the shooting of a comrade.

After the shootout in the Buenos Aires slum on Sept. 8, police whisked away six young men who disappeared. Six bodies have been discovered dumped on the outskirts of Mexico City, and at least three have been confirmed to be of those young men.

On Thursday, 19 members of elite police SWAT teams were charged with abuse of authority _ and one with homicide _ in the killings.

Many people look at the massacre _ and the impunity of the soldiers who committed it _ and are demanding more aggressive prosecution for any officers involved in the Buenos Aires killings.

``The Mexico of today has many similarities with that of 1968, and in evoking those past injustices we need to keep in mind the present ones,″ Rep. Gloria Lavara Mejia of the opposition Green Ecologist Party said in a speech Thursday.

She and other opposition lawmakers, as well as students and human rights activists, are pressing for the declassification of army documents about the massacre.

They are intrigued by recently published U.S. State and Defense Department reports from the time that suggest two generals disobeyed orders to simply surround and contain the peaceful student protest.

The federal government, dominated by the same party since 1929, has cited what it claims is a 30-year secrecy rule in refusing to release the documents.

But the 30 years expire in 1998, and officials of the national archives promised several years ago to release at least some documents in 1998. It remains unclear what those army papers could reveal.

``We need to fight to open the files, because they contain a memory,″ Rep. Pablo Gomez, a former student leader, told the newspaper Reforma. ``And a country that forgets is a country which is extinguished.″ Citing national security concerns, the government has refused to release files kept by the Mexican army on the events of Oct. 2.

The government at the time claimed some 30 people were killed, but witnesses and other sources said about 300 people died.

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