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El Salvador Gangs Accept Proposal to Create 'Peace Zones'

Barrio 18 leader "Viejo Lin" Barrio 18 leader "Viejo Lin"

The leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio 18, and three other street gangs in El Salvador said they accepted a proposal to end all gang activity in designated "zones of peace" in the country. 

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In a statement released to the public, gang leaders said that they'd already handed over a list of 10 possible municipalities where they would agree to cease all criminal activity (read the full text of the statement here).

The creation of several designated "peace zones" in 10 municipalities was first proposed by Bishop Fabio Colindres and ex-congressman Raul Mijango on November 22. The two men helped negotiate a ceasefire between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 earlier this year, which caused the national homicide rate to fall from 14 murders a day to just five. The negotiators intended the creation of these "peace zones" to be the second phase of this gang truce.

Within these designated zones, gangs would agree to a non-aggression pact, and would commit to stopping all homicides, extortion, theft, and kidnapping. The municipalities that would include these peace zones have not yet been identified, although gang leaders said the agreement would affect some 900,000 people who live in the proposed areas. In their statement, gang leaders said that they'd already ordered affiliate groups -- or "cliques" -- to begin disarming in these areas, and hand over the weapons to the truce facilitators.

The three other street gangs who agreed to the proposal include the Mao Mao, La Maquina, and the Miradas Locos.

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Barrio 18 leader Carlos Mojica Lechuga, alias "Viejo Lin," told the AFP that one of the aims of these peace zones is to allow gang members to "reinsert" themselves back into society. However, the proposal comes with a condition: according to the AFP, gang members are demanding the repeal of a 2009 anti-gang law which allowed police to conduct mass arrests of alleged gang members. Some of these raids have involved the arrest of dozens of suspected gang members at once

It remains to be seen whether the government would have to agree to this -- or grant some other kind of concession -- to keep this proposal moving forward. Security and Justice Minister David Munguia Payes expressed optimism about the proposal when it was first announced, but this may change if it leads to increased demands from the gangs.

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