NEW: "What we want is peace," a member of one of the country's most violent gangs says
Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, according to the U.N.
The two most violent gangs will begin talks for a possible truce
A similar truce in El Salvador has significantly reduced the number of murders
Honduras, the country with the world’s highest murder rate, is backing talks between its two most violent gangs in search of a truce.
The Mara Salvatrucha and Calle 18 gangs gave separate statements from a prison in San Pedro Sula on Tuesday, asking forgiveness from the public for the violence and declaring a cease-fire.
Gang members spoke with their faces covered with bandanas to disguise their identities as they pushed for peace.
“We are going to start now. … We have now spent more than a decade being always involved in crime and mistreatment, which has also affected us, and what we want is peace,” a representative of the Calle 18 gang told reporters.
But a deal between the long-warring gangs isn’t yet on the table.
“We cannot have a truce with other people who do not think like we do,” a representative of the Mara Salvatrucha said from the prison inside a city that has been described as the world’s murder capital.
“We are going to respect their territory, but let them also respect our territory, so that the violence decreases,” a Calle 18 representative said.
The gangs already reached a truce in neighboring El Salvador, and officials there claim the murder rate has dropped dramatically.
Honduran leaders hope for the same.
Gang members who spoke from the prison on Tuesday said they wanted the government to help them find work.
“They want to reconcile with Honduran society and ask for forgiveness from the Honduran people, and I think it is a step forward,” said San Pedro Sula Bishop Romulo Emiliani, who first revealed the talks a week ago. “What is coming is difficult. It is not easy. It is complicated.”
But despite the difficulties of negotiations, Emiliani told the Honduran newspaper La Prensa that down the line, “depending on certain factors, there may be a truce between the two gangs.”
On Monday, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo gave the government’s backing.
Lobo said he called Emiliani to “express my congratulations and my appreciation in name of the people of Honduras.”
The Organization of American States, through Secretary for Multidimensional Security Adam Blackwell, is also participating in the process.
“We have talked to my knowledge for the past eight months, trying to find the same type of reaction as we have in El Salvador,” Blackwell said Tuesday.
According to the United Nations, in 2011, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world, at 91.6 killings per 100,000 people. That same year, El Salvador registered the second-highest murder rate, at 69.2 killings per 100,000. These most recent statistics from the United Nations do not reflect the impact of the gang truce in El Salvador, but officials there say it is significant.
According the Salvadoran government, the number of murders has fallen by 52% since the truce was signed 14 months ago. The average number of killings fell from 13 per day to 6 per day. According to a U.S. State Department travel warning, however, the truce has had little impact on robbery, assaults and other violent crime.
Journalists Elvin Sandoval reported from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. CNN’s Mariano Castillo reported from Atlanta. Journalist Merlin Delcid in San Salvador, El Salvador, and CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet in Atlanta contributed to this report.