A military court handed down prison terms of up to 40 years in the case of 14 army personnel found guilty of killing five civilians and wounding three others in the western state of Sinaloa, Mexico's defense department said.

The sentences were imposed on Oct. 28, the department said in a statement.

The army major who was in command of the unit involved in the incident was sentenced to 40 years in prison, while the only other officer convicted in the trial received a term of 38 years.

Twelve soldiers were each sentenced to 16 years, according to the official statement, which did not include the convicts' names.

Another officer and two soldiers charged in the case are still awaiting trial pending a ruling on motions filed by their attorneys.

The court martial acquitted two other defendants, concluding that they could not be positively linked to the violent events of July 1, 2007, in La Joya, Sinaloa.

The defense department said that pursuant to the court's verdict, it will compensate the victims' families.

The court "acted in a transparent and impartial manner and with the juridical rigor contemplated in the military code of justice," the department said.

Noting the deployment of some 45,000 military personnel to battle drug cartels over the last five years, the defense department said that only 1.53 percent of all of the complaints filed with the independent National Human Rights Commission citing abuses by soldiers have resulted in criminal convictions.

Though defense officials apparently see that statistic as vindicating the conduct of the military, others - including Mexico's rights commission and Amnesty International - regard the tiny ratio of convictions to complaints as evidence of impunity.