TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Following in the footsteps of their counterparts in neighboring El Salvador, Honduras' two largest and most-violent gangs will sign a truce next week and ask for a dialogue with the government and police to help them start leaving their gang lifestyle, a Roman Catholic bishop said Friday.
San Pedro Sula's bishop, Romulo Emiliani, told The Associated Press that the Mara Salavatrucha and 18th Street gangs will begin their truce on Tuesday.
"The government has been informed and it should be the next to join the dialogue," according to Emiliani, who said he has been mediating with gang members for a long time.
He said the gangs need government help to stop charging protection fees to finance their war with each other and that authorities should try to turn the country's prisons into rehabilitation centers. The gangs will issue a public apology.
Honduras is following the example of El Salvador, where leaders of the same gangs agreed last year to a truce that sharply lowered the number of violent deaths. According to reports from public security authorities, during the 14-month truce homicides have dropped about 52 percent.
Adam Blackwell, Ambassador for Security Affairs of the Organization of American States, said the dialogue with the Honduran gangs started eight months ago, when he and Emiliani visited prisons in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa and met with members of both groups.
"This has been a process that began 14 months ago in El Salvador and we hope it can have the same impact it had there in reducing violence," said Blackwell, who was involved in the negotiations for the gang truce in El Salvador.
Blackwell said he has personally spoken to the Honduran President Porfirio Lobo and his minister of security about a possible truce but that there is no formal accord yet.
"There is no formal agreement like we have in El Salvador," he added.
The Maras have their roots in Southern California, where young men seeking refuge from Central America's civil wars formed violent gangs on the streets of Los Angeles and its suburbs in the 1980s. Gang members later deported from the U.S. re-established their violent organizations in their native countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, according to U.N. figures.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.