Army to withdraw from street patrols in Guatemala

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Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales speaks during a press conference at the Culture Palace in Guatemala City on March 9, 2017, where he informed about the temporary closure of the government-run children’s shelter in San Jose Pinula, east of the capital where a fire took place on the eve leaving, up to now, 34 girls dead. Guatemala recoiled in anger and shock Thursday at the deaths of 34 teenage girls in a fire at a government-run shelter where staff have been accused of sexual abuse and other mistreatment. Around 20 more survivors remained hospitalized, most of them in critical condition, according to hospital officials.JOHAN ORDONEZ / AFP

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[File Photo] Guatemala Army.

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.

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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.

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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.

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