Guatemala's homicide rate falls for third year in a row

GUATEMALA CITY Wed Jan 2, 2013 6:00pm GMT

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GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Homicides in Guatemala, which has one of the world's highest murder rates, fell in 2012 for a third year as authorities ramped up their battle against Mexican drug cartels and other organized criminals, the security ministry said on Wednesday.

The Central American nation of nearly 15 million people registered 5,174 murders in 2012, an 8.9 percent drop from 2011.

"We have improved coordination between the state prosecutor's office and the police ... and we have a new school with more advanced training for officers," Vice-Minister of Security Arkel Benitez told Reuters.

Guatemala has been battling a wave of violent crime for over a decade, with homicides peaking at 6,498 in 2009, giving the country one of the world's highest per capita murder rates, according to the United Nations.

Powerful Mexican drug cartels battling for territory to ship South American cocaine to the United States have spread their brutal tactics to Guatemala, contributing to high crime rates.

Youth street gangs known as 'Maras' also extort money from residents and businesses, often killing those who don't pay.

President Otto Perez took office in January 2011 promising a crackdown on organized criminals. He sent 300 new elite soldiers known as 'Kaibiles' to Guatemala's porous northern border region with Mexico to fight traffickers and has installed military posts in dangerous areas of the capital city.

(Reporting by Mike McDonald; Editing by Simon Gardner)

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