Murders in notoriously violent El Salvador drop 20 percent in 2016: police

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - Murders in El Salvador fell by more than a fifth in 2016 after soaring to one of the highest rates anywhere around the globe the previous year, police data in the Central American nation showed on Monday.

National police chief Howard Cotto said steps taken by the government to combat El Salvador’s violent street gangs, known as Maras, helped to cut the homicide total by 1,378 from the previous year to 5,278, a decline of 20.7 percent.

The wave of killings in El Salvador in 2015 pushed the murder rate above 100 for every 100,000 inhabitants, probably the highest in the world for a country not at war. The rate dropped to 81.7 per 100,000 in 2016, according to Reuters calculations.

Cotto told a news conference the government’s plan to target 10 municipalities where violence was particularly acute had yielded “very palpable” results.

Neighboring Honduras had held the distinction of being the most murderous nation between 2011 and 2012, according to figures compiled by the United Nations. Respective national data showed El Salvador’s murder rate surging past Honduras in 2015.

Much of the violence that plagues El Salvador, driving tens of thousands to seek refuge in the United States, can be traced back to the country’s civil war that ended in 1992.

Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Editing by Tom Brown