|Students from the Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College in Iguala, |
Mexico protested against their colleagues' disappearance
It is not clear whether the bodies found in a pit are those of the missing students, who were last seen being forced into police vans.
The group had travelled to the area, in the state of Guerrero, to take part in a protest over teachers' rights.
Police opened fire on their buses, killing six people.
Twenty-two police officers are being held in connection with the shooting.
Witnesses said the most of the survivors - all trainee teachers - were bundled into police vans before disappearing.
Some had gone into hiding and contacted their relatives after several days, still fearing for their lives.
It was thought initially that 44 students, not 43, had gone missing. They had been taking part in a protest over job discrimination against rural teachers.
|The government has offered a reward of $75,000 (£47,000) |
for information leading to the students' location
It is not known exactly how many bodies it contains. Guerrero state prosecutor Inaky Blanco said forensic experts were trying to identify the victims.
Some of the relatives of the missing students had joined the search, knocking on doors and handing out pictures of their loved ones.
State prosecutors said local officials and police officers could have links with criminal gangs operating in Guerrero state.
|Mexican marines have joined the search in Guerrero state|
Mexico correspondent Will Grant says the incident has highlighted the extent of the collusion between criminal groups and officials in much of the country.
How it all Began - A wild, hair-raising night
The attacks on the students were part of a string of violent events on Friday night in Iguala, in Guerrero state, which left six people dead and more injured. Along with other recent events elsewhere in Guerrero – including the assassination of a party political boss in a well-known restaurant in Acapulco on Sunday and the murder of five people in one of the city’s poor barrios on Monday – the impression is growing that the state, long in a state of conflict, is being pushed over the edge.
“What is happening is very serious,” said Samuel González, a security expert and former drug tsar. “But what we are seeing at the moment is still just the symptoms. We don’t know what the sickness is yet.”
The students, who come from a famously radical teacher training college, had gone to Iguala on Friday to collect money to fund forthcoming protests against what they say are discriminatory hiring practices for teachers that favour urban students over rural ones. Later the students said they tried to hitchhike back to their college but the police said they commandeered three buses from the terminal soon after dark to leave town.
|Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College in Iguala, Mexico|
About three hours later, a number of students had returned to the scene of the attack and were talking to local reporters when they began to hear gunfire coming their way.
“We ran in the other direction,” one witness, who identified himself only by the name Ángel, told Radio Formula. “You could hear cries and moans and the bursts of gunfire that kept going.”
Two students died and one was left in a vegetative state following the two attacks. The body of a third student was found dumped nearby later, his face reportedly skinned and his eyes gouged out.
In the meantime, unidentified gunmen had also attacked a bus carrying a teenage football team called the Avispones de Chilpancingo, leaving the city after a match. One player and the driver died.
“We thought somebody was letting off fireworks at first, with the bangs and the flashes from the machine guns lighting up the darkness,” the team’s trainer, Facundo Serrano, told the newspaper Milenio.
The sixth victim in Iguala was a woman in a taxi.
|Ciudad Iguala, Mexico|
The city is described by observers as within the territory of a criminal group known as Guerreros Unidos, one of a number formed after the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel splintered in 2010. Such groups often exercise significant control over police in their territories, particularly municipal forces.
On Tuesday, the state government charged 22 municipal police officers with murder. The state prosecutor, Iñaki Blanco, has indicated that a charge of “forced disappearance” could also follow.