Mexicans to rally for tougher laws in wake of kidnappings

Published: Wednesday, July 1 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

In the wake of recent kidnappings in the Mexican state of Chihuahua that attracted attention in Utah, thousands are expected to march today in Chihuahua's capital both to support recent anti-terrorism efforts and call for stronger legislation.

With community and business leaders joining Chihuahua state residents for the mass show of support, the cause is called "SOS Chihuahua" — the acronym standing for Sociedad Organizada Segura, or Secure Organized Society.

The march coincides with graduation ceremonies for a new specialized anti-terrorism force in Chihuahua, the northern state that borders Texas and New Mexico and includes many of the colonies settled by polygamous Mormon families fleeing government prosecution in the 1880s, before The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ended its practice of polygamy.

With his state plagued with an increasing number of kidnappings, Chihuahua's governor brought in trainers from the Colombian National Police to train the group. Of the more than 1,000 applications, 56 were selected to undergo the monthlong training.

The call to Colombia came shortly after 16-year-old Eric LeBaron, a member of a polygamous sect, was kidnapped in May near Colonia LeBaron. Area residents — with LDS Church members and Mennonites joining those of regional polygamous sects — protested at the governor's office, with LeBaron later released unharmed after the Mexican army was sent out to find the kidnappers.

And in mid-June, Meredith Romney — a Colonia Juarez native who previously served as the president of the LDS Church's Colonia Juarez Chihuahua Temple — was kidnapped and held overnight in a cave until being released after his family paid an undisclosed ransom amount.

Besides the visible support for increased enforcement efforts, the SOS Chihuahua march doubles as a call for stronger legislation to discourage the rash of regional kidnappings, said Karyn Longhurst, a Nuevo Casas Grandes resident and media contact for SOS Chihuahua.

"We want to show the government that as a community, we've had enough," Longhurst said.

Officials expect anywhere from 2,000 to 12,000 people from all of the state's communities to participate in the march.

Leaders of the cause will present Chihuahau's governor with a list of six areas of legislative reform to enhance citizen safety including:

 Allowing rapid response to kidnappings. Police now must wait for a formal police report before taking action.

 Implementing asset forfeiture from convicted kidnappers.

 Eliminating judicial and sentencing loopholes now used by those charged with or convicted of kidnapping.

 Enhancing protections and reparations for victims and those reporting kidnappings.

 Increasing punishments not only for those implicitly involved in kidnappings but also any public servant who turns a blind eye or is involved through bribery.

 Enhancing citizens' abilities to carry weapons for self-protection.

E-MAIL: taylor@desnews.com

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