January 28, 2015 / 4:13 AM / 3 years ago

El Salvador gang leaders seek talks with government over violence

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - Leaders of El Salvador’s main street gangs on Tuesday urged the government to begin a dialogue to reduce violence and tone down its tough stance against their members after the vice president said police could open fire on them if necessary.

Violence in El Salvador has jumped over the past year after a 2012 truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and rival gang Barrio 18 started to unravel, and last Wednesday Vice President Oscar Ortiz said police should respond with force “without any fear of suffering consequences” if threatened by gang members.

The following day, authorities registered no murders in the country for a 24-hour stretch, the first time that had happened in more than 2-1/2 years, according to the police.

In a statement, the gang leaders said “the difficult situation the country is going through requires proactive steps and messages in support of peace, not desperate steps that only bang the drums of war and thus fan the flames of violence”.

However, the government rejected the approach from the gangs, whose turf wars have helped make El Salvador one of the most violent countries in the Americas.

“The government of El Salvador reiterates what was said at the start of this year by President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, that it does not negotiate, nor will it negotiate with criminal groups of any kind, but will fulfill its obligation to apply the law,” Sanchez Ceren’s office said in a statement.

Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Editing by Alan Raybould

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