Acapulco (Mexico) (AFP) - Authorities have pulled 17 bodies from a ravine in southern Mexico after they were reportedly discovered by a man who traveled from the United States in search of a missing relative.
"There were nine complete bodies and eight half-burned" in the 500-meter-deep (1,650-foot) canyon in the violent state of Guerrero, an official from the attorney general's office told AFP on condition of anonymity on Tuesday.
The bodies were discovered between December 8 and 11 in the village of Chichihualco, whose population is known for its production of handmade footballs.
The identities of the victims, and even their gender, are unknown. Officials also do not know how long ago they died.
Across the region, clandestine graves are often found with one or several bodies inside, but this was a particularly grisly find.
- Found by man posing as goatherder -
Mario Vergara, who heads The Other Disappeared, an organization that searches for missing people in Guerrero, told AFP that the man stumbled onto the bodies after a long search through the region.
"He says that he had to pretend to be a farmer to go unnoticed because it's an area where marijuana is grown. He bought goats to go through the hills," Vergara said, noting that the man eventually gained the trust of locals.
"The bodies were not buried. They were on the ground. There were bodies hanging from trees. I'm told it was like hell," he said, adding that the man's story was relayed to him by a collaborator.
A member of another organization of relatives of missing people in Guerrero, Isabel Rosales, said the bodies were sent to Mexico City to be identified.
Rosales said members of the Committee of Relatives and Friends of Kidnapped, Missing and Murdered People of Guerrero asked the attorney general's office to take their DNA samples to match them with the new remains.
The committee, founded in 2007, has 45 cases of missing people in the four main cities of Guerrero, including the Pacific resort of Acapulco and the state capital Chilpancingo.
Chichihualco is in the middle of one of Mexico's most dangerous regions.
The state of Guerrero has suffered years of drug cartel violence as gangs grow opium poppies in remote mountains and battle for control of heroin trafficking routes.
It is in Guerrero that 43 trainee teachers were abducted by corrupt police in the city of Iguala in September 2014 and, according to prosecutors, handed over to a gang that killed them and incinerated their bodies.
The case shed light on the plight of Mexico's disappeared amid drug cartel violence that has left some 26,000 people missing and tens of thousands more dead.
The Chichihualco investigation is led by a newly created division in the attorney general's office specializing in the search for missing people.
Hundreds of people have gone missing in Guerrero alone. In June, 10 bodies were exhumed from seven clandestine graves on the outskirts of Acapulco.
- New kidnapping -
Last week, the government deployed 200 federal forces in a subregion straddling Guerrero and Michoacan states known as Tierra Caliente (Hot Land).
The mayor of the town of Apaxtla, some 250 kilometers (150 miles) from Chichihualco, said on Tuesday that seven men were kidnapped last week.
Gunmen dressed in fake military gear and armed with assault rifles intercepted a public transport van and grabbed five men. Later, they tried to kidnap four other people, though two escaped.
Drug gangs often "take some people to incorporate them in their criminal group," Mayor Salvador Martinez told Radio Formula.