SAN SALVADOR El Salvador on Tuesday appointed a military man to run the Ministry of Security for the first time since the end of a bloody 1980-1992 civil war which deeply polarized the Central American nation.
Leftist President Mauricio Funes picked retired general David Munguia for the job despite opposition from members of his own party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which fought the military during the war.
The war claimed around 75,000 lives, and the ministry which controls the police had remained in civilian hands since the peace accords of 1992 which ended the conflict.
Munguia, seen as a moderate member of the armed forces who had hitherto served as Funes' defense minister, replaces Manuel Melgar, an ex-leftist guerrilla commander from the war who resigned earlier this month for reasons that are unclear.
"David Munguia is a man I have the utmost faith in, a retired soldier who deserves recognition from civil society for his performance in the armed forces during the 2-1/2 years he has been working under my mandate," Funes said.
El Salvador has struggled to contain rampant lawlessness caused by street gangs often working for Mexican drug cartels.
The violence has given the coffee and sugar exporting nation a homicide rate of 66 per 100,000 inhabitants - the second highest in the world after neighboring Honduras, according to United Nations figures published last month.
The soaring death toll has increased pressure on Funes to toughen up the government's response to crime.
However, scars run deep in El Salvador from the civil war, when the U.S.-backed military government fought leftist rebels in one of the Cold War's most brutal conflicts.
The president of the Salvadorean Congress, FMLN deputy Sigfrido Reyes, said Munguia's appointment ran contrary to the postwar settlement and could augur ill for the future.
"I deplore this decision because I think it's a serious step backwards in the process of democratization in this country and in the construction of public security entities in line with the constitution," Reyes told Reuters.
(Writing by Dave Graham, Editing by Sandra Maler)