updated 12/20/2005 12:43:07 PM ET 2005-12-20T17:43:07

Kidnappers in Mexico are three times more likely to kill their victims than are their counterparts in Colombia, the country long considered to have the worst problem, a Mexican anti-crime group said Monday.

About one out of every seven people kidnapped in Mexico died at the hands of their captors in 2005, compared to one out of every 26 victims in Colombia, according to a report by the Citizen Council for Public Safety, a private-sector think tank.

Mexico overtook Colombia this year as the world leader in reported kidnappings in the first six months of 2005 with 194 cases, compared to 172 abductions registered over the same period in Colombia, according to the think tank.

The group is still compiling data for the entire year, but it doesn't expect Mexico's ranking to change.

"We are seeing a larger number of victims murdered during kidnappings," said Jose Antonio Ortega, president of the Citizen Council. "There is more violence against the victims, because they (kidnappers) think that with more violence they are going to break them quicker, and squeeze them for their last cent."

The problem has worsened over the last 35 years, Ortega said.

Between 1970 and 1976 — when leftist guerrilla groups in Mexico launched a campaign of kidnappings of prominent businessmen — 32 kidnap victims were killed.

Between 1994 and 2000, years marked by economic crisis, 115 kidnap victims died.

That number rose to 199 between 2000 and 2005, with 43 people killed this year alone.

While some kidnappers in Mexico may kill their victims to eliminate witnesses or because they have botched a kidnapping, others use violence selectively, Ortega said.

"We have seen cases in which they have sent videos of victims being tortured to their families, to get bigger ransoms," Ortega said. "The gangs are becoming more sophisticated."

One recently captured gang allegedly hired a French employee of an expensive Mexico City hotel to help them scope out potential victims "to get bigger ransoms," Ortega said.

Ortega said police or former police officers were involved in many kidnappings. He called for an investigation into reports that police had provided protection for gangs in some recent high-profile cases.

Mexico also has seen a boom in so-called express kidnappings, in which victims are abducted briefly and forced to withdraw funds from ATMs. Express kidnappings were not included in the citizen council report.

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