Army to withdraw from street patrols in Guatemala


Guatemala City (AFP)

Troops in Guatemala withdrew from patrolling the country's streets Saturday, after 18 years of supporting the police in the fight against crime.

"This Saturday is the last day that the army will support the police. From Sunday, soldiers have to return to their brigades," an interior ministry source who requested anonymity told AFP.

Around 4,200 soldiers were posted to support security efforts, withdrawing gradually over the past year. Some 2000 currently remain, the official said.

The military worked with the police in five of the country's 22 departments and in those with high crime rates, like Guatemala Department where the capital is located.

Earlier this month defense minister Luis Ralda announced troops would stand down. Ministry spokesman Colonel Oscar Perez told Guatemala's state news agency Saturday the country's national security council established the interior ministry and police were capable of taking over.

Perez added the army will focus on border security and combatting drug, arms and human trafficking.

The army was deployed to the streets in 2000 under then president Alfonso Portillo, who cited the country's murder rate of 6,000 people per year as justification. That figure dropped to 4,500 last year.

The deployment triggered controversy over accusations against the military of crimes against humanity carried out during the civil war (1960-1996).

Some 200,000 people died or were made to disappear during the long, brutal conflict, according to the United Nations.

A December 1996 peace agreement took them off the streets, making way for civil police forces, and charged the military with overseeing border security and protecting sovereignty.