El Salvador sets post-war murder record in 2011

SAN SALVADOR - El Salvador saw a post-civil war record number of murders in 2011, with at least 4,308 people killed in a crime epidemic in the country of 6.1 million, police said.

National police announced the figure late Monday, saying it topped the 2009 rate of 4,223 murders, making 2011 the deadliest year in recent memory for a small country still struggling to recover from a devastating civil war.

The latest number reflects a 9.3 per cent increase in homicides from the previous year, according to national police director Carlos Ascencio.

El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world. The country suffers from a brutal gang culture that leaves on average 12 people murdered each day, along with dozens of cases of armed robbery.

Some 18,000 people are believed to be members of Salvadoran gangs notorious for extorting money from traders and transport companies, and organized crime groups that traffic drugs, weapons and people.

Ascencio said Salvadoran security forces had dismantled 297 gangs, including 124 belonging to the notorious transnational Mara Salvatrucha cartel.

Since late 2009, the government has cracked down on gangs, sending a 4,000-strong contingent of troops onto the streets to reinforce police.

Some 75,000 people died and more than 7,000 went missing in the country's 1980-1992 civil war between leftist guerrillas and government forces.