April 4, 2006

War tactics could wipe out C. America gangs: police

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (Reuters) - Central American
governments could wipe out violent street gangs in two months
by treating them like opponents in a war, El Salvador's police
chief said on Tuesday.

The tattooed street mobs, blamed for a rampage of murders,
rapes and robberies and also operating in southern Mexico and
in the United States, grew out of Hispanic youth gangs in Los
Angeles and have around 100,000 members, police say.

"If this were a war and war concepts were applied, the
gangs here would be finished in two months," Salvadoran police
chief Rodrigo Avila told a local television station.

The gangs are considered to be the No. 1 security threat in
Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Inter-gang warfare often
involves beheadings and eye gougings although human rights
groups blame some killings on vigilante death squads.

"If this continues at the same rate in the region, the gang
members are going to become belligerent groups that are going
to endanger stability and national security," Avila said.

Police from the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras,
El Salvador and Dominican Republic are meeting in San Salvador
to discuss ways to combat gangs in the region.

Government crackdowns on gang violence, especially in
Honduras and El Salvador, pushed gang members to move to other
countries, including southern Mexico, which has a porous and
easily crossable border.

Many gang members have been thrown in jail and rival gangs
often fight and kill each other behind bars. The two best known
gangs are the Mara Salvatrucha and the Mara 18.