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As gang violence hits El Salvador, a new wave of disappearances

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El Salvador is suffering a new wave of disappearances, mostly of young people and teenagers, who go missing without explanation in a phenomenon linked to the gang violence hitting the country.

Thousands of El Salvadorans disappeared in the country’s civil war. Some were children who kidnapped and sent abroad for adoption, and some victims of death squads or the military who were buried in mass graves. Now, almost 20 years after the conflict ended, online newspaper El Faro says that disappearances are as much of an everyday phenomenon as they were during the war.

The police received more than 1,200 reports of disappearances between January 2007 and December 2008, and in the first four months of this year they registered 179 – double the number in the same period in 2010. This is likely an under-representation of the true number of disappeared, as many families will not report their relatives missing, for fear of reprisals. Many of these are young people, with the average age of the missing being between 15 and 25. There is no official body in El Salvador that keeps reliable and complete records of the disappeared, according to El Faro.

Some of the victims are likely to be found in the mass graves which are being found more and more frequently around the country, according to El Diario de Hoy. In August a mass grave containing more than 10 bodies was discovered in Sacacoyo, just outside San Salvador. While one government official said that these contain old corpses buried during the civil war, the Attorney General’s Office said that all of them had died since 2009. Forensic scientist Israel Ticas has been excavating the bodies, which are among more than 500 that he has been involved in removing from their clandestine burial grounds in the last five years.

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