July 3, 2005, 12:42AM

Authorities offer little help, hope to families of missing
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

NUEVO LAREDO, MEXICO - Nancy Segovia, an anxious 20-year-old wife and mother, searches for a husband who did not return from his job as a Nuevo Laredo policeman three weeks ago.

Two Laredo men, William Slemaker, 52, and Pablo Cisneros, 49, search for their daughters, who vanished 10 months ago while visiting this violence-torn border city.

Last week, the three stood in 100-degree-plus temperatures outside a Mexican military base, trying to learn whether their loved ones were among the 44 people rescued by federal agents from two safe houses operated by a drug cartel.

The wife and fathers gathered with hundreds of others from both sides of the border, desperate for information about people known as los des- aparecidos, or the missing ones.

The rescue operation June 29 raised the hopes of Segovia, Slemaker, Cisneros and many others looking for relatives who vanished, with no ransom demands, during a three-year turf war between rival drug cartels. Each was disappointed.

In Nuevo Laredo, the faces of the missing stare out from homemade posters attached to street lights, taped to doorways of police stations or printed in newspaper ads. In a city that has seen more than 70 killings linked to the drug war so far this year, the missing are largely unknown to the public, and the local police seem to have done little to find them.

Federal officials said in Mexico City last week that many of the 44 victims were seized by city police who turned them over to cartel gunmen. One of the police commanders in Nuevo Laredo's 450-member force, Moises de Anda, said he did not know whether officers were kidnappers but "If the federal agencies investigating this are saying that (police officers abducted many of the captives), then it's probably true."

"People go on patrol, and you don't know what they do."

At the end of a week that began with good news, the two fathers and the young wife again were left to continue their searches, armed with few clues.

Disappeared in September
There were no ransom calls to either the men or the policeman's family, adding to the speculation the kidnappings were ordered by two powerful drug gangs fighting for control of Nuevo Laredo and its smuggling routes into Texas.

"We're at a point where we ... want to get past this nightmare," said Slemaker, a railroad worker and truck driver. " We want them dead or alive â€