Guatemala nabs suspected leader of farm massacre

May 25, 2011

Guatemalan police have caught the suspected head of a group of Zetas drug gang hitmen accused of killing and beheading 27 farm workers this month, President Alvaro Colom said Tuesday.

The brutal killings of 27 people, including three minors, at “Los Cocos” farm, some 600 kilometers (370 miles) north of the capital on May 14, shocked Guatemala with some of the worst violence since the end of its 1996 civil war.

Police detained the Guatemalan man, identified as Elder Estuardo Morales Pineda, Tuesday in San Benito near the farm where the massacre took place, said police spokesman Donald Gonzalez told AFP. He was accused of kidnapping and murder.

“This person appears to have been responsible for directing the group which killed the farm workers,” Colom told a news conference.

Five other suspects, including three Mexicans, were detained Tuesday in Huehuetenango, northeast Guatemala, and six others were detained in the past week.

The perpetrators appeared to have been seeking to kill the farm’s owner, Otto Salguero, who is now under investigation for suspected links to drug trafficking.

Colom declared a state of emergency in Peten and deployed security forces to comb the jungle region where the Zetas — a Mexican gang set up by elite army deserters notorious for brutal slayings in Mexico — have recently made in-roads.

Police found the chopped up body of a local prosecutor in another area of northern Guatemala Tuesday, and also blamed the killing on the Zetas.

Allan Stowlinsky Vidaurre had been abducted the previous day in the Alta Verapaz department.

Although Guatemala has one of Latin America’s highest murder rates, the Central American nation is unaccustomed to the brutal, large-scale killings which have rocked parts of Mexico in recent months.

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