Salvadoran street gangs extend truce to another city

Rival Salvadoran street gangs on Saturday added a sixth city to a truce signed a year ago, in a hopeful sign for a peace pact that has dramatically lowered deaths from gang-related homicide.

Members from the notorious Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs looked on as their leaders signed the pact in the town of Apopa, 12 kilometers (seven miles) north of the capital city, San Salvador.

They later handed over nearly 300 guns and explosive devices that underscore how well armed they are. The arsenal included M-16 assault rifles, pistols, submachine guns and grenades.

Police kept a close watch at the ceremony, which was also attended by Justice Minister David Munguia and a mediator, Raul Mijango, a former guerrilla leader.

Since the truce was first agreed exactly one year ago Saturday, the gang-related homicide rate in this Central American country has dropped from 14 a day to five.

At first the truce was between those two main gangs, but later five smaller ones joined in.

Political analyst Antonio Martinez said the truce has eased street violence that had long plagued impoverished El Salvador.

But he added that other issues need to be addressed, such as how to get gang members who abandon that lifestyle back into society as productive people.

"Those are details that for now are not resolved and must be taken into account for the process to avoid falling apart," Martinez said.

El Salvador, a small country of six million people, is brimming with an estimated 50,000 street gang members, plus another 10,000 who are behind bars, according to government figures.

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