Four gang members have been assassinated in El Salvador's first "peace zone," areas where all gang activity is supposed to have ceased under the terms of a nationwide truce, leading to claims that outside interests could be trying to derail the process.
The murders occurred on Friday, when four members of the Barrio 18 gang were shot in the municipality of Ilopango, which in January became the country's inaugural non-violence zone. The zones are part of the second phase of a negotiated truce between Barrio 18 and rivals Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), which began in March 2012.
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However, the gangs said neither group carried out the murders, and suggested outsiders are trying to sabotage the peace process, El Faro reported. Witnesses said the killers abandoned their car and entered another waiting vehicle, pointing to a professionally-planned job.
Ilopango mayor Salvador Ruano echoed the gangs' claim, suggesting that the killings were carried out by a death squad intent on wrecking the truce, possibly linked to the security forces. El Salvador's police rejected these claims.
InSight Crime Analysis
This is not the first time killings have cast a shadow over the peace zones or the truce. A spate of homicides occurred in Ilopango barely a month into the initiative. However, the gangs have maintained their commitment to the agreement, which nearly halved countrywide homicides after being introduced last year.
While those initial gains have since come under scrutiny following a rise in extortions in the truce's first year and then a rise in year-on-year homicides in May and June 2013, President Mauricio Funes has affirmed his support for the process on numerous occasions and has called for the international community to embrace the process.
Still, it is not clear if his administration is behind him, and, in a confusing display of mixed signals, Funes has also insisted the government is not actually participating in the truce. Even worse, Security Minister Ricardo Perdomo has criticized the truce, saying the gangs have used it to strengthen their ties to international drug trafficking organizations.
What's more, the truce is entering the cruelest phase: election season. The truce promises to be a major point of contention in next year’s presidential elections, and candidates may seek to score easy points by bashing the unpopular gang agreement.