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26.11.2019 Europe

Frenchman kidnapped in Mexico released as wave of abductions continues

By RFI
Mario Vazquez / AFP
NOV 26, 2019 EUROPE

A French citizen and a Mexican actor kidnapped in a national park in central Mexico were freed Monday, officials said.

The two men, identified as Frederic Michel and Alejandro Sandi, were traveling in all-terrain vehicles in the park around the Nevado de Toluca volcano when they were ambushed and abducted on Sunday, witnesses said.

Police and National Guard troops had launched a search in the area around the snow-capped volcano, which is located about 50 kilometers northeast of Mexico City and is popular with hikers and campers.

Frédéric Michel, 40 years old, had reportedly been living in Mexico for several years with his partner.

The French and Mexican governments confirmed the men had been freed, without giving further details.

A source with Mexico's anti-kidnapping unit told AFP both victims were unharmed.

Ransom
The news came shortly after Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said the kidnappers had demanded a ransom.

"There have been communications, and a ransom payment was, in effect, requested," Durazo told journalists.

The French foreign ministry thanked the Mexican authorities for their "vital help" in ensuring the victims were freed.

Mexico's anti-kidnapping office vowed to continue the investigation "with the aim of finding those responsible."

Two Mexican actresses traveling with the men said gunmen intercepted them and took their car by force, but let them go free.

Surge in kidnapping cases this year
Mexico has seen a surge in kidnappings this year: 1,700 from January to October, a rate of more than five per day -- a 38 percent increase on the same period last year, according to the watchdog group Alto al Secuestro (Halt Kidnapping).

Foreigners are regularly targeted, but details are often scarce, and authorities rarely give information on the negotiations leading to victims' release.

Leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December 2018, is struggling to rein in violent crime widely blamed on Mexico's drug cartels and other criminal gangs.

This year appears on track to break Mexico's murder record, with 28,741 so far.

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