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New Force Will Combat Violence in Guatemala

July 23, 2004

GUATEMALA CITY – PresidentOscar Berger this week continued to grapplewith the violent crime wave here withouthis Public Security Minister but with anew “elite” police force.Berger announced the resignation ofSecurity Minister Arturo Soto on Monday,but told the press he is not discouraged andhis government will continue its agenda toprevent and pursue crime.This agenda includes the installation thisweek of a new police force with a dependenceon the militaryunseen since the country’s36-year civil warended in the mid-1990s.Soto had beenblamed by many sectorsfor security officials’inability to stemthe year’s crime wave,which has left morethan 2,000 dead.However, Bergersaid the resignation wasfor personal reasons,and explained Sotocompleted his commitment to stay during a“transition period” and initiate a plan topurge and restructure the Armed Forces.MEMBERS of the restructured ArmedForces are part of a 5,000-strong elite force,also made of police and presidential security,created to combat crime. The military isincluded despite a provision of the 1996Peace Accords that prevents the participationof the military in civilian security.“Violence is one the biggest problems andwe have to act immediately,” Berger said.The latest victims of crime include thepresident of the board of directors of theNational Electrification Institute (INDE),Jaime Cáceres.Cáceres, 75, was shot to death and his carstolen last week after attending a work-relatedactivity late in the evening. The attack,which Energy Minister Manuel Gonzálezsaid looks like a common crime, occurred inthe southern section of the capital.Also last week, a group of 17 volunteers,including 13 minors, were attackedlast week on a bus on the Inter-AmericanHighway, near thepopular Lake Atitlán.The assailants madeoff with $11,000 thatCalifornia-basedorganization Seeds ofLearning had collectedto build schools inCentral America.THE wave ofcrime has created seriousanxiety among theGuatemalan public.According to a public poll published Sundayby the local press, 76.3% of 1,225 peopleinterviewed by the firm Vox Latina believeviolence is affecting the entire country, while28% of those interviewed said they havebeen victims of the crime wave.Dozens of humanitarian, indigenous,religious and academic organizations, aswell as unions and private entities, lastweek initiated the Front Against Violenceto demand response from the government.Nearly half of the more than 2,000murders this year have occurred inGuatemala City. The government’s newelite force will work in 40 places considered“hot” in the capital.“There will be a lot of (police) presence,24-hour patrols. We are going tocause some bothers to the population, but itwill be good for everyone,” Berger said.He also asked for the public’s participationin a national disarmament campaignto collect an estimated 1.8 million illegalfirearms in the country (TT, July 16).IN related news, Vice-President EduardoStein visited the United States this week toinitiate negotiations to lift a 1979 embargothat blocks military assistance from theUnited States because of human rights abusescommitted by the Guatemalan military.Stein told the press he hoped theUnited States would lift the restriction inorder to help Guatemala comply with thePeace Accords.

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