San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Honduran officials search for more gang victims in clandestine grave

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – For the sixth consecutive day, Honduran authorities continued excavating a mass grave in the north of the country, where to date the remains of at least eight people, presumed to have been killed by gang members, have been recovered.

“The work continues,” Honduran Chief Prosecutor Marlene Banegas told AFP on Saturday. “We believe that there are at least five more people were buried here, which would bring the total to 13.”

The mass grave is 40 centimeters deep at a site with abundant vegetation, located outside the community of Las Glorias de El Calán, in the municipality of Villanueva, some 200 kilometers north of the capital.

“Forensic specialists found bodies with their hands and feet tied, and gunshot wounds to the heads, execution-style, common of gang-related murders,” a spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office, Elvis Guzmán, said.

Exhumations began last Tuesday following reports from family members of the missing people and residents of Villanueva.

Guzmán said the remains are all male victims, and some have been there for up to two years.

“For the moment, we have been unable to identify the victims until DNA tests are performed,” Guzmán said, adding that, “the forensic work will continue until there are no more remains in this mass grave.”

The violent gangs Mara Salvatrucha and La 18 have operated in Honduras since 1986, according to officials, and they are feared by the public as they kidnap, extort and act as hit men for drug traffickers and organized crime.

At the end of May, leaders from the two biggest gangs, who are in prison in the northern city of San Pedro Sula, asked for “forgiveness from society and authorities,” and promised to end the violence.

However, San Pedro Sula Auxiliary Bishop Rómulo Emiliani, who is promoting dialogue between the two rival gangs, has ruled out the possibility of an immediate truce.

According to the United Nations, Honduras is the most violent country in the world outside of war zones, with a murder rate of 85.5 per 100,000 residents.

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