Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Gunmen hijack Mexican bus of detained immigrants

NEW ROUTE The number of Cubans trying to reach the US via Mexico is on the rise, and with it violent incidents related to the smuggling of the migrants

AP , MEXICO CITY

Armed men hijacked a bus carrying 33 Cubans and four Central American migrants detained in southern Mexico after forcing immigration agents away at gunpoint, officials said on Thursday.

A half-dozen assailants wearing masks and carrying guns blocked the road, stopped the bus and forced the seven unarmed agents and two bus drivers to get off, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute said.

The hijacking occurred late on Wednesday in the southern state of Chiapas. None of the immigration agents or bus drivers were harmed.

“The armed men took off with the foreigners to an unknown destination,” the Immigration Institute said in a press statement.

An immigration official who was not authorized to be quoted by name said the assailants threatened the agents with “heavy caliber weapons.”

He initially said 34 Cubans had been involved. The bus was later discovered, empty near the jungle city of Ocosingo.

The Cubans had been detained on June 5 on Mexico’s Caribbean coast near Cancun.

Immigration officials said they did not know who carried out the attack, or if they were immigrant smugglers seeking to recover their charges. Migrant traffickers have sometimes been known to kidnap groups of migrants from their rivals, and later ransom them off.

Cubans are increasingly traveling through Mexico to reach the US, instead of trying to get past US Coast Guard patrols off Florida.

There have been violent incidents related to the smuggling of Cuban migrants in the past: A suspected Cuban-American smuggler was shot and seriously wounded in Mexico in December.

But Wednesday’s assault marked the first case in recent memory that assailants targeted migrants who’d already been detained by immigration authorities.

The seized Cubans and Central Americans were being taken to an immigration processing center in the nearby city of Tapachula when the attack occurred.

Mexican immigration agents are normally unarmed on such assignments.

Some undocumented Cuban migrants who reach Mexico’s coast, usually in boats or makeshift rafts, are allowed to remain in the country, where they quickly make their way to the US border.

However, some are returned to the island.

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