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Guatemalan Troops To Patrol Streets

June 17, 2000 GMT

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ Thousands of Guatemalan troops will start patrolling streets round the clock this weekend to help police who, have been losing the battle against crime.

Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo has publicly criticized police for getting out smarted by criminals.

``It is necessary to change the entire structure of authorities to provide the kind of security Guatemalans need,″ said Defense Minister Juan de Dios Estrada.

Estrada said the plan will continue ``as long as there is need″ with troops assuming many of the responsibilities of police, including making arrests.


``We understand that there will be some hassle for common Guatemalans who will be driving in their cars and be stopped by soldiers looking for proper registration and weapons,″ Defense Minister Juan de Dios Estrada told reporters at a press conference Friday. ``But the new daily annoyances will be done for everyone’s well being.″

About 4,000 soldiers are being deployed to help out the 5,000 police officers, said National Police Director Mario Rene Cifuentes.

Guatemala created its first all-civilian police force as a condition of the December 1996 peace accords, which ended Guatemala’s 36-year civil war between government forces and leftist guerillas. About 200,000 Guatemalans were killed in the war.

The law allowing the military to come to the aid of police was first proposed by Portillo last month. It sailed through the Guatemalan legislature with almost no opposition last week. The logistics of the joint patrols took just days to finalize.