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Justice: El Salvador sends 5,000 soldiers to surround town after police killing

Nayib Bukele
Nayib Bukele | Shutterstock

May 18, 2023 8:31am

Updated: May 18, 2023 8:31am

More than 5,000 soldiers and 500 police officers were sent to a town in the northwestern part of El Salvador after a police officer was killed by a suspected gang member, President Nayib Bukele said on Wednesday. 

The police officer was killed in an attack by suspected gang members on Tuesday in the town of Nueva Concepcion, around 42 miles (67 kilometers) from the capital of San Salvador.

“Since early this morning, we have established a security fence around the municipality of Nueva Concepción, Chalatenango, with more than 5,000 elements of the @FUERZARMADASV and 500 of the @PNCSV,” Bukele posted on Twitter. “In search of those responsible for the murder and the entire structure of gang members and collaborators who are still hiding in that place.”

“They will pay dearly for the murder of our hero,” he added along with a video showing the troops getting ready for their next mission and being deployed. 

The move comes as part of Bukele’s widespread crackdown on gangs and state of exception, which began on March 27, 22 after 62 people were killed in 72 hours. 

Under the special powers, constitutional protections and freedom of association in the Central American country are temporarily suspended and police are allowed to arrest and jail anyone under suspicion of being a gang member, even if the evidence is questionable. 

The measures extended pre-trial detention for suspects and do not allow them the right to consult with a lawyer. Out of the more than 68,000 suspected gang members imprisoned, 58,000 of them are still awaiting formal charges of a trial. Several of the inmates were transferred to a new “mega-prison” that opened in February. 

Human rights groups have condemned the measures, claiming that they lead to “systematic” human rights abuses by the government. 

“The deaths of 132 people in state custody, arbitrary detention, mass criminal prosecutions, and the indiscriminate imprisonment of tens of thousands of people are incompatible with an effective, fair, and lasting public security strategy,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.