SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – Prosecutors in El Salvador ordered the arrests of some 593 people nationwide on suspicion of crimes like homicide and extortion, an action that appeared to be a major strike against gangs that have turned the Central American country into one of the deadliest in the world.
Attorney General Douglas Melendez said in a statement on Wednesday that all the detention orders were based on investigations. Other charges filed against the suspects included crimes such as terrorism, fraud, rape, kidnapping and drug possession.
So far, 337 suspected gang members had been arrested, police chief Howard Cotto said in a news conference, and efforts are ongoing to arrest the remaining suspects.
State security forces in Central America and Mexico are often accused of arbitrary detentions by human rights groups.
Violence has surged in El Salvador since a 2012 truce between the Barrio 18 gang and its rival Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, began to unravel in 2014.
The majority of those arrested so far were from MS-13 and suspected of committing crimes against the police, Cotto said.
Violent crime in El Salvador and other countries in the region is one of the main reasons why people seek to emigrate, often moving northward through Mexico to the United States.
(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; editing by Grant McCool and G Crosse)