Sunday, February 22, 2004

Grisly warning calls for end to gang crackdown

Honduran police won't elaborate on written threat to president

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) --The disfigured body of a young man was found in
northern Honduras along with a message threatening the Honduran president, police
said Sunday. The discovery marks the 10th such slaying apparently carried about by
gangs protesting a government crackdown.

Guatemala's new president received a similar threat last month, warning him
that if his government continued to target gangs, "more people will die."

Honduran authorities said three local prostitutes discovered the body of the
latest victim Saturday in the city of San Pedro Sula, 180 kilometers (110 miles)
north of the capital, Tegucigalpa.

Investigators estimated the victim was between 18 and 21. His assailants had
gouged out his eyes, cut off his ears and nose and removed his heart, police
spokesman Ivan Mejia said. His head was wrapped in a red shirt and stuffed
inside a plastic garbage bag.

Attached to the body was a threatening message aimed at President Ricardo
Maduro, whose contents police would not reveal.

The threats appear to be a backlash against Maduro's intense crackdown on
gangs in the past six months. Last year, the Honduran Congress followed the
president's recommendation to outlaw the youth gangs and established prison
penalties of up to 12 years for their members. More than 1,000 gang members
have been detained.

A message attached to the body of a victim found in January read, "Happy
New Year to President Maduro. This is another challenge ... and the next
victims will be police and journalists."

Also in January, two weeks after his inauguration, Guatemalan President Oscar
Berger received a similar message, attached to the body of a dead man. "If you
continue going after gang members, more people will die," the message said.
"Mara Salvatrucha," the name of one of Central America's fiercest gangs, was
written on the back of the dead body.

Shortly after taking office, Berger pledged to crack down on the gangs. El
Salvador also passed a law criminalizing gang membership last year. Since then,
the gangs, called maras after an ant that devours everything in its path, have
moved into Mexico, where they often are accused of drug trafficking and
robbing Central American migrants.

Police in southern Chiapas state, where many of the gang members
concentrate, on Saturday announced the capture of three Mara Salvatrucha

Also Saturday, the president of Mexico's national human rights commission,
Jose Luis Soberanes, said his group is working with national migration and
Interior Department officials to prevent gang attacks on the Central American

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.