El Salvador's attorney general cautioned security forces against turning the country into the "Wild West" as authorities reported a string of shootouts that ended with eight gang members dead and a report surfaced indicating a spike in killings with multiple victims.
Authorities said eight alleged gang members died on July 7 in reported shootouts with police, La Prensa Grafica reported. The paper quoted National Civil Police (Policia Nacional Civil - PNC) Director Howard Cotto as saying 4 armed individuals were killed after allegedly trying to ambush police in Ilobasco, about 50 kms northeast of the capital, San Salvador. The police reported that they recovered a 12-gauge shotgun and several 9mm pistols at the scene.
The Attorney General's Office said three more people identified as gang members were killed later the same day in a shootout in La Paz, southeast of the capital, La Prensa Grafica reported. The paper quoted Attorney General Douglas Meléndez as cautioning the security forces to avoid "turning El Salvador into the Wild West." He said so far this year 183 people had died in confrontations with law enforcement.
The news service ACAN-EFE reported that it had obtained a document drawn up by the Attorney General's Office indicating that "massacres" -- which are defined as killings resulting in three deaths or more -- claimed 269 lives during the first five months of 2016, an 88 percent increase over the same period a year earlier. The report said that in 70 percent of those cases the victims were identified as gang members.
Cotto acknowledged that there had been a spike in killings since the beginning of July.
“The message is clear. We will go after anybody who attacks us," Cotto told reporters, invoking the memory of a police sergeant recently killed in the line of duty. "That is the constant, it has been and it will be. We will go after them until we find them, dead or alive.”
Meanwhile, the Attorney General's Office reported on it's website the capture of Félix Alberto Palacios Ramos, alias ‘Gato,’ who was identified as a leader of Mara Salvatrucha (MS13). That report said police found Palacios with four AK-47 assault rifles, two M-16s, and one Galil automatic rifle.
InSight Crime Analysis
El Salvador has in recent years been one of the most violent countries in the Western Hemisphere, with its homicide rate fueled mostly by gang-on-gang killings as the MS13 and two rival factions of Barrio 18 fought turf wars aimed at controlling neighborhoods. The gangs announced a détente in April in an unsuccessful attempt to head off a crackdown that had been announced by the government.
SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles
Between April and June, El Salvador's homicide rate was cut nearly in half, with both the gangs and the government taking credit for the decline. However, confrontations between military backed and outfitted police units and the gangs now appear to be a major driver of violence in El Salvador.
The apparent increase in reported shootouts between the authorities and gangs has been accompanied by growing concerns about police and military committing human rights abuses. If, as critics claim, the government crackdown has included a string of extrajudicial killings, recent improvement in the homicide rate will have come at a high price for Salvadoran society.