March 14, 2016 / 7:18 PM / 3 years ago

Venezuela says four bodies found are among 21 missing from massacre

A woman holds a picture of a relative next to a man holding a placard that reads, "We want justice for our miners brothers" during a demonstration regarding the missing miners in Tumeremo in Bolivar state, Venezuela March 7, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

CARACAS (Reuters) - Investigators have found the remains of four people presumed to be among 21 miners missing over a week ago after a massacre near a gold mine in Venezuela’s violent southern jungle, the chief prosecutor said on Monday.

Luisa Ortega told a local TV station four bodies had been exhumed so far.

“We’re convinced, after a technically and scientifically rigorous investigation, that in total 21 people disappeared,” she said. “We are still determining the motive ... of this massacre,” Ortega added, the first official to use that word.

The massacre took place near Tumerero, in Bolivar state, with some witnesses cited by local media, relatives and politicians as saying that a gang shot the miners and cut some up with a chain saw on March 4.

The case has shaken Venezuelans, even though the country suffers one of the world’s highest murder rates. The government has pointed the finger at foreign paramilitaries, while opponents have accused security forces of being negligent.

Gang fights are common in the vast and remote area near the borders of Guyana and Brazil, which is riddled with illegal mines.

Arrest warrants have been issued for three people, including an Ecuadorean, Ortega said. One woman had been arrested and is due to appear in court in the city of Puerto Ordaz on Tuesday.

Reporting by Deisy Buitrago and Andrew Cawthorne; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Girish Gupta and Richard Chang

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