San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

El Salvador's feared gangs extend truce to schools

Quezaltepeque.- El Salvador’s powerful gangs or Maras have pledged to end the forceful recruitment of young people and declared schools to be “zones of peace” in an unprecedented move linked to a March truce.

“We hereby declare the abolition of all forms of involuntary recruitment of minors and adults,” said Victor Antonio Garcia, leader of the Mara-18 gang, at a press conference at the jail where he is being held outside San Salvador.

The Mara Salvatrucha, the country’s other main crime syndicate, has also agreed to the move. The two gangs have some 32,000 members — 10,000 of them in prison — engaged in illicit trades like drugs and extortion.

The two gangs are known for being especially violent, and largely account for the tiny Central American country’s soaring homicide rate, high even by the standards of a region gripped by drug violence.

Since the announcement of the truce the average daily homicide rate in El Salvador has dropped from 14 to five, according to police.

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