San Salvador, Dec 3 (EFE).- Thousands of members of El Salvador’s security forces were deployed early Saturday in the country’s third-largest city to “extract” criminals who have so far eluded capture in the “war against gangs,” authorities said.
In a pre-dawn post on social media, right-wing President Nayib Bukele announced the operation in Soyapango involving 8,500 soldiers and 1,500 police.
Troops and police “have surrounded the city,” he wrote. “The extraction teams of the police and army are taking charge of extracting one-by-one all of the gang members who are still there.”
Bukele, who informed the nation last month of the plan to encircle major cities to carry out arrests, insisted that “ordinary citizens have nothing to fear and can continue going about their lives normally.”
His office, in a separate statement, said that police and soldiers had occupied slum areas in Soyapango and the city’s central market.
The security forces are conducting checks of private vehicles and public buses as well as of pedestrians, according to the statement.
Soyapango, located roughly 12 km (7.5 mi) from San Salvador and with a population of nearly 260,000, is reputed to be one of the most dangerous cities in the Central American nation.
El Salvador is in the ninth month of a state of emergency imposed with the stated aim of battling gangs.
It was in the wake of an eruption of violence in late March with 87 homicides in three days that Bukele persuaded congress to grant him special powers to battle the Mara Salvatrucha gang, also known as MS13.
The state of emergency entails the suspension of constitutional guarantees and allows police to detain people without warrants and in the absence of grounds that would stand up to judicial scrutiny.
More than 58,000 people with gang connections have been arrested, according to the government, but families of many detainees say that their loved ones were law-abiding citizens.
NGOs and the national ombud’s office have received more than 7,400 complaints about human rights violations in connection with the state of emergency, most of them for arbitrary arrest, and Salvadoran media report that more than 50 detainees have died in custody.
A succession of governments has struggled to subdue MS-13 and the other gangs, which actually originated in Los Angeles among the children of Salvadorans fleeing the country’s 1980-1992 civil war.
Convicted gang members deported back to their homeland from the United States established the gangs on Salvadoran soil, where the number of members is currently estimated at around 70,000.