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UN says Honduran police involved in child killings
Honduran police have murdered children and teen-agers in what local rights groups call "social cleansing," according to a UN official who urged the government Friday to punish those responsible.
Asma Jahangir, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, is on a 10-day mission in Honduras to investigate the murders of more than 800 children and young people during the last 3-1/2 years.
"There've been many killings and those responsible are gang members and a percentage have been state agents," Jahangir told journalists.
According to Casa Alianza, a nonprofit group working with street children in Mexico and Central America, 820 young Hondurans were murdered between January 1998 and June 2001.
Casa Alianza says 13 percent of these were killed by police officers and another 13 percent died as a result of gang rivalries. The group says more than 60 percent of the cases have not been adequately investigated.
Teenagers are found dead almost daily in Honduras, especially in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and in the northern city of San Pedro Sula. Most of the deaths are believed to be gang related.
Despite the horrifying number of dead, many Hondurans are frightened of the "maras" or gangs and are indifferent to the murders of children who belong to them.
Police say that there are about 32,000 gang members in Honduras, a largely agricultural country of six million. Eighty percent of Hondurans live in poverty.
The gangs are made up largely of children and teen-agers from poor neighborhoods who rob and sell drugs, police say.
President Carlos Flores invited Jahangir to Honduras in response to accusations by human rights and children's defense groups that the government was ignoring the problem. Jahangir's visit ends next Thursday.
Police blame gang rivalries for many of the killings. Victims are often killed by a single shot to the head, fired at close range.
But human rights groups say many of the crimes are committed by death squads linked to the police.
Honduran Security Minister Gautama Fonseca acknowledged that his security forces may have killed gang members, but said those were isolated cases and the guilty would be punished. Twelve police officers had been charged, he added.
"Several policemen have been arrested as a result of the accusations. ... They are individual actions, independent of the government," he said.
Jahangir said the murders would continue as long as immunity was tolerated and the perpetrators allowed to roam free. "Nothing justifies the state killing of a child."
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