Latin America & Caribbean

Mexico rescues 165 kidnapped migrants near US border

Tamaulipas house from where 165 migrants were freed
Image caption The migrants, including children and pregnant women, were held in poor conditions

The Mexican army says it has rescued 165 migrants kidnapped by a criminal gang at least two weeks ago.

The migrants were trying to cross to the US illegally but were taken hostage in northern Tamaulipas state by a gang who demanded cash from relatives.

Most of the victims were from Central American countries.

The migrants were probably betrayed by human trafficking gangs who were paid to get them into the US, a Mexican government spokesperson said.

Instead of taking the group across the border, they handed them over to another criminal organisation that operates in northern Mexico.

The kidnappers had been phoning relatives of the victims and demanding further money transfers, said government spokesman Eduardo Sanchez.

Pregnant women

The operation took place on Tuesday, in the municipality of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, but has only now been reported.

The army was alerted to the presence of heavily armed men at a property in the area, said Mr Sanchez.

When it stormed the property, it found 165 people, including two pregnant women and seven children.

The victims are from El Salvador (77), Guatemala (50), Honduras (23), Mexico (14) and there is also a citizen from India.

"They said they had been kidnapped by an armed individual and that they had been deprived of their freedom in precarious, dirty and overcrowded conditions in the past two or three weeks," Mr Sanchez told journalists.

The migrants are all under the custody of immigration officials and will be transferred to Mexico City.

One person has been arrested, the army said. He was identified only as Juan "N".

Human rights organisations say migrants attempting to cross illegally into the United States are being increasingly targeted by criminal organisations.

Many are kidnapped and forced to work for the drug-trafficking cartels, such as Los Zetas.

In 2010, 72 migrants were massacred in another part of Tamaulipas and buried in shallow graves by Los Zetas.

The strategy of kidnapping migrants on their route north and then extorting their families in the US and in Central America is thought to be one of the gangs' most lucrative criminal enterprises alongside drug trafficking, says the BBC's Will Grant in northern Mexico.

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