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International team to exhume 96 bodies in graves in Mexico

Argentinian forensic experts have traveled to southern Mexico to exhume 96 bodies thought to be those of Central Americans who died as they tried to get to the United States, according to local reports. 

Six experts from The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) are working with local and federal authorities in the cities of Tapachula and Ciudad Hidalgo in the state of Chiapas, Mexico's Proceso magazine reported on Monday. (Link to story in Spanish)

The EAAF team, which plans to spend at least two months in Chiapas, arrived on Monday at a municipal cemetery in the city of Tapachula, along with medical, human rights and justice officials, as well as representatives of the Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran consulates, Proceso added.

The EAAF was asked to help identify the bodies in Chiapas -- the majority of which were placed in one communal grave by local medical officials -- by groups advocating for the rights of migrants, Proceso reported.

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In most of Mexico, the bodies of indigent or unidentified people who have died in care are buried in group graves, with five to 10 corpses placed on each level, according to a Mexico forensics expert who asked not to be identified.  

Non-governmental EAAF  was established in 1984 to investigate the cases of some 9,000 disappeared people in Argentina under the military government that ruled from 1976 to 1983. It now works around the world. 

The teams will analyze DNA samples from the buried bodies and those provided by families searching their missing loved ones, Proceso reported. The cemeteries are on routes known to be used by Central American migrants.

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The organization Voces Mesoamericanas (Mesoamerican Voices) requested the government of Chiapas look in the tombs for many missing migrants, the magazine said.  

The organization has also looked along the so-called migrant route for clues to the location of some 2,000 migrants thought to have died along the way to the United States, Proceso said. 

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It isn't known how many of the estimated 500,000 Central American migrants who pass through Mexico on their way to the United States actually make it to their destination, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Many migrants are preyed on by criminal gangs and suffer assault, sexual slavery, kidnapping and murder, the organization added.

The EAAF, Mesoamerican Voices and local officials in Chiapas were not immediately available for comment.  

NBC News' F. Brinley Bruton contributed to this report.

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