Drug gang violence surges in Honduras

TEGUCIGALPA Tue Dec 23, 2008 2:05am GMT

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TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Mexican drug gang violence is spilling over into neighbouring Honduras, driving up murder rates as cartels fight over routes used to smuggle cocaine to the United States, a UN-backed study said on Monday.

The number of homicides in Honduras jumped by one-fourth to 3,262 between January and September of 2008, including execution-style group killings committed by cartels, according to a report by the National Autonomous University of Honduras sponsored by the United Nations Development Program.

"The murders that have most increased are those by hitmen, the group killings of five ... or more people, the work of organized crime," Julieta Castellanos, UN consultant on the report, told Reuters.

Castellanos said Mexican cartels had likely moved into Central American territory long controlled by Colombia drug traffickers who have been weakened by a decades-long U.S. anti-drug offensive.

In Mexico, more than 5,300 people have died this year, more than twice as many as in 2007, as powerful Mexican traffickers fight each other and state security forces for control over lucrative smuggling routes.

Mexican gangs used to move narcotics up from South America with relative ease, but stricter control of sea and air routes has increased the importance of land paths through Central America, U.S. and Mexico anti-drug experts say.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia, editing by Patricia Zengerle)

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