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One month after journalist's disappearance, investigation seems to be stalled

(RSF/IFEX) - No ransom demand. No news at all. The official investigation has not progressed in the month since María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe, a young journalist employed by the "Diario de Zamora" and "Cambio de Michoacán" newspapers in the southwestern state of Michoacán, disappeared on 11 November 2009. Nonetheless, there are reasons for thinking her disappearance was linked to her reporting and that drug traffickers were involved.

"It is vital that the Special Federal Attorney's Office for Combating Violence against the Media (FEADP), which is about to send a team to Michoacán to look into this case, take into account certain factors reported by Aguilar's relatives and colleagues," Reporters Without Borders said. "Some of the stories Aguilar had just written left her very exposed to the possibility of reprisals."

The press freedom organisation added: "The case's to-ing and fro-ing between different officials in the past month has caused a major delay in the investigation and there is every reason to fear that it could grind to a complete halt."

A Reporters Without Borders representative met recently with Aguilar's family and some of her close colleagues.

A member of the staff of a Michoacán newspaper told Reporters Without Borders: "We try harder all the time to report the news objectively but investigative journalism has disappeared. It no longer exists. We no longer see any way out of this. Some of our colleagues have fled the region to protect themselves, while the rest continue to live under the permanent eye of the drug traffickers."

The epicentre of a federal offensive against drug trafficking launched in 2006, the state of Michoacán is under the sway of such high-profile crime organisations as The Family, a local cartel, and the Zetas, a paramilitary group.

Shortly before her disappearance, Aguilar had covered a local police official's alleged use of violence and abuse of authority. She also covered the detention of two leading members of The Family, one known as "Nineteen and a Half," who was arrested in August, and the other known as "El Bofo" (Fatty), arrested on 30 October.

The Michoacán State Attorney General's Office claims to have produced 19 procedural reports since the start of the investigation into Aguilar's disappearance, but her relatives said "no one ever contacted us" and they insist that the case file has been passed between judicial officials in the cities of Uruapán, Zamora and Morelia without any explanation being given.

Aged 32 and the mother of girls aged seven and nine, Aguilar is the ninth journalist to disappear in Mexico since 2003.

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