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Mexican soldiers may be arrested in infamous missing students case -sources

Mexican authorities are preparing arrest warrants that could for the first time target soldiers in the investigation into the 2014 abduction and presumed massacre of 43 students, according to three sources briefed on the new developments.

By Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICO CITY, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Mexican authorities are preparing arrest warrants that could for the first time target soldiers in the investigation into the 2014 abduction and presumed massacre of 43 students, according to three sources briefed on the new developments.

The unsolved kidnapping of the young men who were training to be teachers convulsed the country and garnered international condemnation as one of the darkest examples of the government's longstanding difficulty preventing violence or convicting those responsible.

In the years since the disappearance of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College students in southern Guerrero state, calls to look into the potential role of army soldiers have intensified, including those stationed at a nearby base at the time of the alleged abduction.

"Arrest warrants are included for local, state and federal police in Guerrero, as well as for members (of the military) of the 27th battalion," said one source on condition of anonymity who was not authorized to speak to the media.

Two other sources, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the inclusion of soldiers among the new warrants.

Neither the attorney general's office nor representatives of a national truth commission responded to requests for comment.

The defense ministry said it had no information to provide about new arrest warrants.

On Tuesday, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he will provide new information on the case on the sixth anniversary of the kidnapping at the weekend, including "arrest warrants in progress."

"What's matters most is to find out where the young men are," he said.

He did not specify the targets of the arrest warrants, but noted that he will also address the charges against Tomas Zeron, a top security official in the previous administration who is wanted for tampering with evidence and torture in the case.

Last week, Lopez Obrador called on Israel, where the ex-head of criminal investigations is believed to be located, to offer him no protection from facing justice back home.

The Sept. 26, 2014 kidnapping remains one of the most infamous incidents during the 13 years of Mexico's drug war.

Lopez Obrador told family members shortly after he took office nearly two years ago that there would be no impunity for anyone involved in the crime.

Investigators in July found a bone fragment belonging to one of the student teachers, which authorities said could open new leads.

Before that, authorities had definitively identified the remains of just one student teacher.

Another source said the arrest warrants have met standards of proof and were signed off on by a judge. The source gave no more details.

The sources did not know how many warrants would be issued or the timing.

The disappearance of the 43 students has exposed deep flaws in Mexico's criminal justice system, and led to involvement of the Washington-based Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

In 2015, the commission established the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, or IGIE, to assist the government's investigation.

The IGIE's work documented serious flaws in a previous government investigation that concluded the students were incinerated in a dump after they were turned over to gang members by corrupt local police.

It is still not clear exactly what happened. One theory by the group of experts was that the students were killed after they mistakenly commandeered a bus carrying a cargo of heroin.

The panel's five experts have insisted on interviewing soldiers stationed in the town at the time, but to date both the Lopez Obrador administration as well as the government led by his predecessor, former President Enrique Peña Nieto, have not made them available to interviewers.

The experts have carried out similar fact-finding interviews with local, state and federal police as well as gang members suspected of involvement in the abduction or murder.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and David Gregorio)

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