Tegucigalpa – Investigators suspect police officers were behind the recent murder of the son of the president of the National Autonomous University of Honduras and another student, Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla said Wednesday.
Rafael Vargas Castellanos, son of university President Julieta Castellanos, and his friend Carlos Pineda were killed last week while on their way home from a party.
The 22-year-old Vargas Castellanos was studying law and the 24-year-old Pineda was finishing a degree in sociology.
"Yes, sir, regrettably we are working under that theory," Bonilla said on Channel 5 television when asked about a story in La Tribuna newspaper indicating the double-murder was carried out by "police assassins."
The investigation has turned up evidence that the same cops who killed the two students were also linked to other homicides, the paper said.
The suspects' names have not been disclosed.
"I am going to make the biggest effort of my life to resolve all these problems," Bonilla, who took over the security portfolio two months ago from Oscar Alvarez, said Wednesday.
"If there are criminals in the police, the place for them is the Central Penitentiary," Bonilla said.
Honduras experiences an average of 20 homicides a day and members of the security forces have been implicated in numerous killings.
The slaying of the two college students has rocked this Central American nation, which, according to a recent U.N. report, leads the region with a rate of 82 murders per 100,000 residents.
Vargas Castellanos and Pineda left a party at a house in the capital last Friday night and called their families to say they were heading home.
Relatives began to search for the young men when they failed to arrive home. Their bodies were found early Saturday at kilometer 8 of the highway that leads from Tegucigalpa to southern Honduras.
The students' car was intercepted by a police patrol, according to media accounts.
Julieta Castellanos was a member of the truth and reconciliation commission that issued a report earlier this year on the events surrounding the June 28, 2009, coup that ousted President Mel Zelaya.
She also founded a watchdog organization that has exposed official abuses and corruption.
The administration of President Porfirio Lobo - elected in November 2009 in a process marred by violence, media censorship and low turnout - has so far failed on his promise to improve public safety.
Few murders are ever solved and Honduran authorities routinely ascribe violent acts to "score-settling" within and among the country's youth gangs and criminal outfits.
At the same time, many of the killings since Zelaya's ouster appear to be politically motivated, as victims are often associated with the resistance movement that sprang up in the wake of the coup.
The deposed head of state returned to Honduras five months ago under a pact brokered by regional leaders, but violence against his supporters and other activists continues.