MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's government on Tuesday created an anti-kidnapping agency after abductions soared 20 percent last year despite President Enrique Pena Nieto's vow to reduce the crime.
The new department will answer to the country's interior ministry, where Pena Nieto has centered his anti-crime programs after his predecessor relied on police and the military.
Government data showed that reported kidnapping jumped to 1,695 cases last year compared with 1,407 in 2012 in an embarrassment for Pena Nieto, who said he would shift the government's focus from hunting drug lords to reducing kidnappings and extortion.
Since taking office in December 2012, Pena Nieto has sought to draw public attention to his efforts to reform the economy and away from grisly violence that has killed more than 80,000 people since his predecessor, Felipe Calderon, launched a military offensive against drug cartels seven years ago.
Former federal prosecutor Renato Sales was named to lead the new force, establish common protocols for investigation, train agents and buy new equipment.
Many families that are victims of kidnappers do not report abductions to authorities, and private groups have much higher statistics on the number of kidnappings. Sales told reporters that the real number of kidnappings could be as much as 10 times what official data shows.
Victims are reluctant to report crimes due to concerns than kidnappers could find out. Active and former police officers are frequently part of kidnapping gangs that have been busted.
(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)