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Police Uncover Clandestine Grave on Rio’s Outskirts

October 30, 1990

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ An abandoned well where death squads dumped their victims was discovered in a slum called Shangri-la, a police official said Tuesday.

An official with a special commission that investigates death squad activities said the grave was found Saturday, after police arrested six suspected killers. The official asked not to be named for security reasons.

He said no bodies had yet been retrieved from the site on the outskirts of Nova Iguacu, a city about 20 miles outside of Rio. It isn’t clear how many victims were left there, the official said.

Press reports said there were about 100 bodies buried in the grave. Eduardo Gomes, a church worker in the region, confirmed the press account.

″Most are almost certainly teenagers, killed by death squads,″ he said in a phone interview, in which he said that clothing and shoes uncovered from the grave indicated most of the corpses were those of youngsters.

But the special commission official denied any of the victims had been exhumed, and suggested the reports were exaggerated.

″It’s all speculation,″ he said.

The death squads consist largely of active and off-duty police officers who make extra money by killing petty thieves at the behest of shopkeepers and others. Many of the victims are poor minors involved in the drug trade and small-scale theft.

Death squads operate in many areas of Rio but are notorious for their activities in Nova Iguacu and other cities of the Baixada Fluminense, a sprawling lowlands area west of Rio.

The AP late Tuesday visited Rio’s 54th precinct, which normally handles investigations in the area where the grave was found. Police Chief Celso Bezerra said the case was being handled by the special commission and he could not provide details.

Bezerra did confirm the area where the grave is located had been used as a dump by death squads. But he expressed skepticism that large numbers of bodies would be uncovered.

The AP also went to the Shangri-La neighborhood, an impoverished area criss-crossed by dirt roads dotted with small bare brick homes. No one could be found who was eager to talk about clandestine graveyards.

Homicide investigator Walter Codong dos Reis said the grave was in an extremely dangerous area. He said he would only send detectives there if they were armed with machine guns.

Residents of areas where death squads operate rarely speak to police, or outsiders, for fear of retribution, Codong dos Reis said.

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