Authorities in Panama have discovered a new mass grave in a remote area where in January they found the remains of seven people that police believe were tortured and killed by a religious sect.
However, prosecutors on Monday said that they believe a different sect is responsible for the new mass grave.
The state prosecutor’s office said investigators were supervising the exhumation of skeletal remains from the site in the indigenous Ngabe Bugle region, 350km north of the capital, Panama City.
“At this time it is not possible to determine either the sex or the number of people” found in the grave, Azael Tugri, a public prosecutor in the indigenous district of Nurum, told local media.
Tugri said investigators had to hike for 10 hours through mountains to reach the site, near the source of the Chucara River.
Panama’s Aeronaval Service (SENAN) said in a statement the grave was located after a painstaking month-long search.
Pictures of the site released by the prosecutor’s office showed officials in white coveralls digging in the dirt under thick vegetation.
The latest grisly discovery is being linked by investigators to the dismantling last month of a suspected sect and the arrest of its leader, a source close to the investigation said.
SENAN officials linked the grave site to the “alleged rape and mistreatment of minors” by the religious group.
The authority said evidence from the grave had already been sent to a police base in Santiago de Veraguas, 250km southwest of Panama City, for forensic examination.
A total of five arrests have been made in the case, and three minors rescued, a 14 and 10-year-old, as well as a three-month-old baby, the prosecutor’s office said.
If confirmed, the apparent mass killing would be the second carried out by a sect in the Central American country this year — although authorities say there is no link to the “God’s New Light” sect responsible for the grave discovered in January.
Then, investigators uncovered a mass grave in Altos del Terron — an isolated community in the indigenous region — containing the remains of a pregnant woman and six children aged from one to 17. The bodies had wounds consistent with being beaten.
Police suspected “God’s New Light” leaders were involved in brutal exorcisms, and raided a church used by the sect, arresting 10 people and rescuing 15 others.
Police believe the victims were “tortured and sacrificed” and that the 15 would have been, too.
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