Migrants in Mexico are easy prey for kidnapper who rob, rape and killed them after holding them for randsom. Mexican authorities have looked the other way when cases of abuse come up all too often.
The supposed kidnappers of 50 Central American migrants who disappeared in southern Mexico last week called a family in the United States demanding a ransom, a Roman Catholic priest who first reported the abductions said Thursday.
But they contacted relatives of a migrant who had escaped after the Dec. 16 assault, said the Rev. Alejandro Solalinde, who runs a migrant shelter in the southern state of Oaxaca.
The abductors probably thought he was still in the group, Solalinde told The Associated Press in a telephone interview, adding that he reported the call to Central American and Mexican authorities.
"We're calling the governments of Central America in case they know of any other calls for ransom," he said.
It was another apparent confirmation of the massive abduction, which Mexican authorities initially denied when they were contacted by the foreign ministry of El Salvador on Tuesday with the complaint.
Witnesses said the majority of those kidnapped are Salvadorans, and Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez continued his criticism of Mexico for initially ignoring the abduction, calling the government's response "hasty and unfortunate."
"We believe you can't deal with these problems by ignoring them," he told a news conference Wednesday night. "Rather, they should be recognized and thoroughly investigated."
Mexico's ministries of the interior and foreign relations released a joint statement Thursday promising to step up the investigation into the alleged abductions and asking Central American governments to provide them with any information they have on the case.
Besides El Salvador, the 30 men, 15 women and five children are from Honduras and Guatemala, according to witnesses, who are being interviewed by the Mexican Attorney General's Office. The kidnapping allegedly happened near Chahuites, Oaxaca, after gunmen held up a train in which the migrants were traveling.
The alleged crime comes just months after the horrific massacre of 72 mostly Central American migrants in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas in August, a tragedy that caused Mexico to replace its top immigration official in September.
That massacre has been blamed on the Zetas drug gang. Solalinde said he has information that the supposed kidnappers of the 50 also have ties to the Zetas. Mexican authorities would not comment on a possible connection.
It was not clear how the criminals would have gotten information about the family of an escaped migrant, but Solalinde said he knows of cases in which abductors travel for a while with migrants before kidnapping them to gain their confidence.
Mexico is the transit route for thousands of illegal migrants seeking to reach the United States, with many falling victim to gangs and organized crime.
Witnesses reported that those kidnapped were beaten with machetes and their belongings were taken.
The victims minutes earlier had escaped a raid on the same train by Mexican police and military, in which they arrested 92 alleged illegal migrants.
The National Human Rights Commission reported in 2009 that nearly 10,000 migrants are kidnapped a year by gangs. The commission also has opened an investigation into last week's reported abduction.