U.N. urges inquiry of migrants_ disappearance in Mexico

MEXICO CITY _ The United Nations top human rights official pressed Mexico on Friday to investigate the disappearance ...

MEXICO CITY _ The United Nations top human rights official pressed Mexico on Friday to investigate the disappearance of 40 Central American migrants last month and determine whether the military and the police were complicit.

The statement, by Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, reflects heightened pressure on Mexico, which human rights groups accuse of falling short on promises to protect migrants from thieves, rapists, murderers and corrupt officers as they head to the United States.

The migrants, believed to be mostly Salvadoran and Guatemalan, were part of a group of 250 people on a freight train in southern Oaxaca State. Ms. Pillay said they were initially detained on Dec. 16 by the police, immigration officers and military personnel.

Some were taken into custody. But about 150 managed to continue traveling on the train, run by the federal government-owned Ferrocarril del Istmo de Tehuantepec.

The train operator demanded money from the migrants and, after scoffing at the sum they mustered, the train was boarded a short while later by armed gunmen who robbed and beat some of the migrants and abducted 40 of them, Ms. Pillay said.

The Rev. Alejandro Solalinde, a Catholic priest who operates a migrant shelter in the area, received a death threat after he publicly denounced the crime and disclosed that witnesses had told him the kidnappers had ties to the Zetas, one of the largest and most violent criminal gangs in the country.

_The migrants were abducted in highly questionable circumstances,_ Ms. Pillay said, adding that Mexico needed _to ascertain whether or not any state officials, including those working for the state-owned train operator, were complicit with the criminal organization that carried out the abductions and extortion._

Mexico_s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva told The Associated Press that the government had condemned the killings and was conducting a rigorous investigation. Mexico had initially denied reports that gunmen had boarded the train, but the government of El Salvador and human rights workers said they were in contact with witnesses willing to testify.

The plight of migrants has caused a round of diplomatic meetings between Mexico and Central American neighbors in recent months to head off tension.

Last fall, 72 migrants, mostly from Central America, were abducted and killed in northeastern Mexico by a group the police said was connected to the Zetas.

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