THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Blasts target police, media in Mexico

Official looking into migrant deaths vanishes

Mexican policemen and soldiers stood guard by the remains of a vehicle that exploded outside a television studio in Ciudad Victoria, Mexico. Another car exploded yesterday near the site of an investigation into the deaths of 72 migrants. Mexican policemen and soldiers stood guard by the remains of a vehicle that exploded outside a television studio in Ciudad Victoria, Mexico. Another car exploded yesterday near the site of an investigation into the deaths of 72 migrants. (Henry Romero/Reuters)
By E. Eduardo Castillo
Associated Press / August 28, 2010

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REYNOSA, Mexico — Two cars exploded early yesterday in a northern state where officials are investigating the killing of 72 Central and South American migrants, and a prosecutor investigating the massacre has disappeared.

The prosecutor, Roberto Jaime Suarez, vanished Wednesday in the town of San Fernando, where the bodies of the migrants were found, the Tamaulipas state attorney general’s office said in a statement. A transit police officer in the town was also missing.

President Felipe Calderon, speaking during a forum on security, said Suarez, a Tamaulipas state prosecutor, was involved in the initial investigation into the massacre, which authorities have blamed on the Zetas drug gang. The federal attorney general’s office has since taken the lead in the case.

The two car explosions occurred less than 45 minutes apart in Ciudad Victoria, the Tamaulipas state capital, the attorney general’s office said. The first exploded in front of the offices of the Televisa network and the second in front of transit police offices.

There were no injuries, though both blasts caused some damage to buildings and knocked out the signal of the Televisa network for several hours. The explosion outside Televisa was felt for several blocks.

The network described the explosion as a car bomb, but the state attorney general’s office said the cause of the explosions had not been determined.

If confirmed, it would mean a total of four car bombs in Mexico this year — a new and frightening tactic in the country’s escalating drug war.

The first exploded July 5 in the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez, killing a federal police officer and two other people. The second, which caused no injuries, happened two weeks ago in front of police headquarters in Ciudad Victoria.

Just north of Ciudad Victoria, heavily guarded investigators working at a private funeral home in San Fernando identified 31 of the 72 massacred migrants, whose bodies were discovered on a ranch Tuesday, bound, blindfolded, and slumped against a wall.

Those identified included 14 Hondurans, 12 Salvadorans, four Guatemalans, and one Brazilian, according to the state attorney general’s office.

The government’s chief security spokesman said the migrants were apparently slain because they refused to help the gang smuggle drugs.

“The information we have at this moment is that it was an attempt at forced recruitment,’’ Alejandro Poire told W radio. “It wasn’t a kidnapping with the intent to get money, but the intention was to hold these people, force them to participate in organized crime — with the terrible outcome that we know.’’

The victims of what could be Mexico’s biggest drug-gang massacre were traversing some of the nation’s most dangerous territory, trying to reach Texas.

The lone survivor, an 18-year-old Ecuadoran who managed to escape and alert marines at a checkpoint, said the killers identified themselves as Zetas, a drug gang that dominates much of Tamaulipas.

The Ecuadoran, Luis Freddy Lala Pomavilla, has been offered a humanitarian visa that would allow him to stay in Mexico, Immigration Commissioner Cecilia Romero said during a conference call in Mexico City. Lala, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the neck, has not decided whether to accept, she said.

Romero said Mexico offers a humanitarian visa to any migrant who has been the victim of crime in its territory.

It is one of the many measures Mexico has taken to help migrants who increasingly are being kidnapped, killed, and exploited by gangs as they travel toward the United States, Romero said, disputing allegations from human rights activists who say corruption and indifference by Mexican authorities are letting abuse of migrants escalate.

Romero said most migrants decline the visa, preferring to return to their home countries, but Mexico has granted at least 436 since 2007.

Mexican immigration agents have rescued 2,750 migrants this year, some of whom were stranded in deserts and others who were being held captive by organized crime gangs, Romero said.

In Tamaulipas alone, agents rescued 812 migrants kidnapped by drug gangs, she said. Many of those migrants told authorities the cartels tried to force them into drug trafficking.

The National Human Rights Commission estimated in a report presented last year that nearly 20,000 migrants are kidnapped each year in Mexico based on the number of reports it received between September 2008 and February 2009 — numbers the government disputes.

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