Mexico probing Acapulco tourist kidnapping report

ACAPULCO, Mexico Sat Oct 2, 2010 8:27pm EDT

Women walk at the place where 20 people where kidnapped the last Thursday in Acapulco October 2, 2010. REUTERS/ Jesus Trigo

Women walk at the place where 20 people where kidnapped the last Thursday in Acapulco October 2, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/ Jesus Trigo

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ACAPULCO, Mexico (Reuters) - Authorities are investigating the reported kidnapping of 20 Mexican tourists in the Pacific Coast resort city of Acapulco, a state official said on Saturday.

If confirmed, the incident would be another blow to a renowned beach resort where drug cartel violence has been on the rise in recent years.

Police received a report on Friday that 20 mechanics on vacation from another part of western Mexico were kidnapped on Thursday afternoon, said Fernando Monreal, a top investigator with the attorney general's office in Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located.

The victims were taken in an upscale area near the main tourist strip of hotels, shops and discos along the beach, according to the report filed by a man who said he was part of the group and had seen his friends abducted.

He provided police with a list of names and a description of the cars in which the group arrived, but has since disappeared, Monreal said.

"It is very probable that he went back to where he was from," Monreal said by telephone. "We are looking for evidence. The information is very thin."

The visitors were said to be from the western state of Michoacan, Monreal said, another flash point in Mexico's drug war and home to a drug gang that has been fighting to gain control of the region around Acapulco.

"There are groups that are fighting for these positions. There perhaps could have been some mix-up," said Monreal.

Since government troops killed cartel kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva last December, rival factions of his organization have been battling for control in the Pacific tourist city.

Mexico's tourism industry is a major source of foreign exchange and there are fears that rising drug violence could further damage the sector, following drop-offs after the H1N1 flu outbreak last year and the global economic downturn.

More than 29,000 people have died in drug violence across Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched his army-led attack on drug cartels when he took office in late 2006.

Yet the government says tourism has been recovering this year, with numbers of foreign tourists arriving by plane during the first eight months of the year up 6 percent from the same period of 2008, before recession and the flu outbreak.

Tourist arrivals from January to August 2010 were nearly 20 percent higher than the same period of 2009, the tourism ministry reported.

While Acapulco was popular with the international jet-set of the 1950s, it has become mainly a domestic tourist destination, while foreigners these days favor newer resorts like Cancun on the Caribbean and Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific Coast.

In separate incidents, officials on Saturday confirmed the shooting death of 14 men early Friday morning in a remote mountain village in Durango state, one of Mexico's top drug-producing regions.

Also, three grenade attacks were reported by police on Friday in the affluent northern city of Monterrey.

One grenade went off in the middle of the street in the area of the U.S. consulate, which had been targeted at least twice with grenades in 2009, although nobody has been hurt.

(Additional reporting by Michael O'Boyle in Mexico City; writing by Michael O'Boyle; Editing by Missy Ryan and Eric Walsh)

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