January 16, 2015 / 6:58 PM / 3 years ago

U.N.'s Ban Ki-moon worried by El Salvador violence as murders soar

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday he was concerned by violence in Central America and El Salvador, where there has been a sharp spike in murders and police assassinations over the last year.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks during a press conference at the presidential house in San Salvador January 16, 2015. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

Visiting the poor Central American country to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of peace accords that ended a 12-year civil war that killed around 75,000 people, Ban urged El Salvador to remember that spirit of reconciliation as it grapples with a rising spate of gang warfare.

Central America is home to some of the bloodiest countries in the world, blighted by corrupt institutions, widespread gang culture and chronic unemployment which last year sparked a wave of child migrants that overwhelmed the southern U.S. border.

“We’re very worried at the levels of insecurity and violence across Central America and El Salvador,” Ban told reporters in San Salvador.

Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate of 90.4 murders per 100,000 people, according to the U.N. Neighboring El Salvador is in third place with 41.2 murders per 100,000 people.

Nonetheless, the number of murders last year in El Salvador jumped by nearly 60 percent to an average of 12 killings a day as a truce between its most powerful gangs collapsed.

The pact between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and its rival Barrio 18 helped reduce the murder rate in mid-2013 to around five per day - a 10-year low.

But as the truce crumbled, police died in greater numbers. Last year, 39 cops were executed by suspected gang members, and seven have died so far in 2015, according to official figures.

“These are cowardly acts,” said police chief Mauricio Ramirez, adding that kidnappings were also up.

On Wednesday, around 300 people abandoned the village of San Luis La Herradura, southeast of the capital, after gang members threatened to raze it if they did not pay extortion money.

President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, a former Marxist guerrilla leader, has criticized the previous government’s efforts to negotiate with the gangs, vowing to go after them while strengthening state institutions.

According to one study, around 73,000 people have died in El Salvador since the end of the civil war - almost the same number as those killed during the fighting.

Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Simon Gardner and Bernadette Baum

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