Suspected mass grave is excavated in Panama

image copyrightPanama Public Prosecutor

image captionInvestigators had to walk through mountains for 10 hours to reach the remote location

Police in Panama say they are investigating a mass grave which they believe contains the remains of people killed by a religious sect.

Investigators are supervising the removal of skeletal remains from the site in the remote north-western indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé region.

In January

a grave containing seven bodies was found nearby.

The victims were linked to a religious sect which was believed to be carrying out violent exorcisms.

Public prosecutor Azael Tugri said investigators had had to hike for 10 hours through mountains to reach the mass grave, which is in the northern sector of the Ngäbe Buglé region close to a river.

The site is about 350km (210 miles) west 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],” he told local media.

All the remains were sent to a morgue in the province of Chiriquí where forensic examination will be carried out, the public prosecutor’s office said in a statement (in Spanish).

Earlier this week police arrested the alleged leader of the New Light of God sect in connection with January’s discovery of a mass grave.

media captionThe authorities were alerted by three villagers who escaped and went to a hospital

The grave – which contained the remains of a pregnant woman, five of her children and a teenager – was discovered after three villagers held by the sect escaped and fled to a hospital, prosecutors said at the time.

Police then raided the community and said that inside a makeshift church they found a naked woman, machetes, knives and a ritually sacrificed goat. They said that the sect had been preying on local villagers, performing violent exorcisms involving beatings and torture.

Fifteen people being held by the religious group were freed.

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