Telefonica suspends customer service operations in Guatemala after killings

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - The Guatemalan unit of telecommunications firm Telefonica SA suspended its customer service operations and closed its shops over the weekend after three of its employees were shot to death in the Central American nation.

The three killings and the wounding of a fourth employee occurred in four separate attacks on Friday.

“This is a typical case of extortion in business areas in dangerous parts of the country,” a company representative, who asked not to be named because of safety concerns, told Reuters on Sunday.

“For the safety of our employees, we decided to suspend customer service but will restart tomorrow (Monday) and gradually recover normal operation,” the representative said.

Local media published the transcripts of two supposed conversations between an employee of Movistar, Telefonica’s local unit, and a man attempting to extort $13,600.

Police spokesman Pablo Castillo said authorities were investigating the killings.

Guatemala is struggling with endemic gang violence, especially from the powerful Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, and its rival, Calle 18.

Movistar has 4 million clients in Guatemala.

Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Peter Cooney