El Salvador sends 10,000 troops to seal off gang-run suburb

Gangs in the township of Soyapango yield great power over locals and businesses (Picture: Reuters)

The government of El Salvador has sent 10,000 soldiers and police to seal off a town in a hunt for gang members.

Troops have blocked roads going in and out of Soyapango and are stopping people to check their documents.

Meanwhile, specialist teams have gone directly into the town to search for gang suspects.

El Salvador’s gangs, which have been estimated to count some 70,000 members in their ranks, have long controlled swaths of territory and extorted and killed with impunity.

Today’s operation is one of the largest mobilisations yet in President Nayib Bukele’s crackdown.

‘Starting now, the township of Soyapango is completely surrounded,’ Mr Bukele wrote on his Twitter account.

He then posted videos showing ranks of rifle-toting soldiers.

More than 58,000 people have been jailed since a state of emergency was declared after a wave of murders in late March.

A resident looks out from her doorway as a soldier stands guard (Picture: AP)
Today’s operation is one of the largest mobilisations yet under President Nayib Bukele (Picture: AP)
Thousands have been deployed in the search for gang members (Picture: EPA)

Rights groups have criticised the mass roundups, saying they often sweep up young men based on their appearance or where they live.

It was part of what Mr Bukele called in late November ‘Phase Five’ of the crackdown.

His ruling party have claimed such tactics worked in the town of Comasagua two months ago.

In October, more than 2,000 soldiers and police surrounded and closed off Comasagua in order to search for street gang members accused of murder.

This image, released by El Salvador’s Presidency press office, shows a soldier checking the body of a man for tattoos (Picture: Getty Images)
The government wants to ‘extract’ gang members who have not yet been captured (Picture: EPA)
Human rights groups have raised concerns over the tactics used by the government (Picture: AP)

Drones flew over the town and everyone entering or leaving the town was questioned or searched. Around 50 suspects were detained in two days.

The government estimates murders dropped 38% in the first 10 months of the year compared to the same period of 2021.

Rights activists say young men are frequently arrested just based on their age, on their appearance or whether they live in a gang-dominated slum.

But Mr Bukele’s crackdown reached another level earlier this month when the government sent inmates into cemeteries to destroy the tombs of gang members at a time of year when families typically visit their loved ones’ graves.

Nongovernmental organisations have tallied several thousand human rights violations and at least 80 in-custody deaths of people arrested during the crackdown.

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