Recognizing An Epidemic, Mexico Launches Anti-Kidnapping Campaign

Mexican officials are launching a nationwide effort to fight kidnapping, a crime that has risen to epidemic levels across the country and become what officials are calling a national emergency.

Federal authorities said Tuesday that they are establishing a national anti-kidnapping committee that will establish strategies focused on the 10 of 31 Mexican states that see 74 percent of all kidnappings.

A little more than a year after President Enrique Peña Nieto took power, homicides have decreased but kidnappings and extortion have risen, frustrating his pledges to reduce the levels of the crimes that most affect ordinary Mexicans.

Official figures said Mexicans reported 1,695 kidnappings last year, a 20 percent increase over 2012. But experts estimate more than 90 percent of kidnappings go unreported.

The country's National Institute of Statistics has said based on extrapolations from reported cases that the number of kidnappings in the first nine months of 2013 could exceed 105,000.

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Renato Sales, a federal prosecutor named to head the anti-kidnapping committee, said Mexico needs to "deal quickly and efficiently with the humanitarian emergency that this crime entails."

He said he would start by evaluating much-criticized state anti-kidnapping units, which are widely seen as suffering from poor training, sloppy procedures and excessive turnover of investigators.

The national campaign will focus on the states of Morelos, Guerrero, Zacatecas, Mexico, Tamaulipas, Michoacan, Tabasco, Durango, Veracruz and Oaxaca, most of which have also seen high levels of drug trafficking.

Authorities explain the rise in kidnappings partly by the increasing pressure on drug gangs, who lose profitable drug-trafficking routes under law-enforcement pressure and turn to alternate sources of illicit income.

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