April 30, 2016 / 2:02 AM / in a year

Honduras fires top police officials to purge criminal links

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduran officials on Friday fired more than two dozen top police officers in an aggressive move to purge security forces that have been accused of being infiltrated by organized crime.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez is under pressure to clean up the country's police after the New York Times this month said high-level officers orchestrated the assassination of Honduran anti-drug tsar Aristides Gonzalez in 2009 on a drug lord's orders.

The story spurred the government to create a special commission which on Friday said 27 of the country's 47 police commanders were removed from their posts. Four of the commanders have been accused of participating in Gonzalez's murder.

"This is a step toward the restructuring and purge needed to have a clean police force, unassociated in any way with organized crime," said Omar Rivera, a member of the special commission.

One commander was suspended earlier this week as part of an investigation into the murder. Four more asked to step down voluntarily.

This is the fifth attempt in two decades to purge Honduras' 12,000 strong police force, which has long been accused of working with criminal gangs in the poor Central American country.

One of the commanders forced to stand down said that there were no accusations against him and the shake-up was protecting "certain officials."

"We are the people most interested in the purge being carried out. But it should be the criminals who are going, it should be those who collaborated with organized crime. But its the innocent ones who are going," said Henry Osorto.

Since taking office in 2014, Hernandez, a 47-year old conservative lawyer, pushed a plan to militarize police that has helped curb the murder rate.

But Honduras still has one of the world's highest homicide rates next to neighboring El Salvador due to gang violence and drug traffickers.

The violence is one of the main factors driving Honduran migrants toward the United States.

Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Editing by Andrew Hay

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