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Mexican Navy offers rare apology over missing people in border town

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Rear Admiral Ramiro Lobato Camacho speaks as members of the Mexican Marines offer an apology to family members of victims for their role in the 2018 forced disappearances, according to Attorney General's Office in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

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NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico, July 13 (Reuters) - The Mexican Navy offered a rare public apology on Tuesday for its potential role in the abductions of dozens of people who went missing from a northern border town in 2018 during operations against drug cartels.

As many as 40 people disappeared between February and May of 2018 in Nuevo Laredo, across from Texas, which has long been a flashpoint in turf wars between drug cartels.

In April, Mexican authorities charged 30 Marines for allegedly participating in the forced disappearances there and said authorities would carry out the investigations within six months.

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About two dozen family members of victims of the missing attended an outdoor ceremony in a small park in the center of Nuevo Laredo.

"This institution of the Mexican state deeply regrets the situation," Navy Rear Admiral Ramiro Lobato told the ceremony. He added that the Navy would keep collaborating with officials to seek justice for the victims.

During the event, family members called out the names of their disappeared loved ones and responded in unison, "Present."

Along with the Mexican Army, the Navy for years assumed a central role in the government's military-led crackdown on drug cartels, which was launched in 2006.

Their deployment led to frequent complaints of rights abuses by the armed forces, including forced disappearances.

"We are asking the Marines for justice," said Leticia Martinez Borjas at the ceremony. Her husband, Gabriel Gasper Vazquez, disappeared on March 26, 2018.

"No one deserves to live with this uncertainty of whether their loved one is alive or whether he's no longer in this world," she said.

The charges against the Marines marked the first high-profile move against military personnel by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights had denounced the disappearances, including those of at least five minors, as "horrific."

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Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener Editing by Alistair Bell

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