The Americas

Homicides fall in El Salvador, but remains among deadliest

FILE - In this June 16, 2015 file photo, a mother and daughter embrace after relatives of Alberto Hernandez retrieve his body in a rural area near Caserio el Chumpe, El Salvador. Police believe that the 42-year-old made his living as a driver and was kidnapped and killed by gang members. His body was discovered in a clandestine grave by family members who spotted vultures circling overhead. El Salvador’s national police director said on Monday, Jan. 2, 2017 that murders dropped more than 20 percent in 2016, compared with 2015. However, the tiny Central American country remains among the world’s deadliest. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo, File)

FILE - In this June 16, 2015 file photo, a mother and daughter embrace after relatives of Alberto Hernandez retrieve his body in a rural area near Caserio el Chumpe, El Salvador. Police believe that the 42-year-old made his living as a driver and was kidnapped and killed by gang members. His body was discovered in a clandestine grave by family members who spotted vultures circling overhead. El Salvador’s national police director said on Monday, Jan. 2, 2017 that murders dropped more than 20 percent in 2016, compared with 2015. However, the tiny Central American country remains among the world’s deadliest. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo, File)  (The Associated Press)

El Salvador's national police director says homicides dropped more than 20 percent in 2016, though the rate of 81.2 for every 100,000 residents kept the Central American country among the world's deadliest.

Commissioner Howard Cotto said at a news conference Monday that there were at least 5,278 killings in 2016, down from 6,665 in 2015, when the homicide rate hit 104 per 100,000 residents.

The country has been fighting to retake territory from its powerful street gangs.

Criminologist Ricardo Sosa called it an "important achievement" and noted that it was really only nine months since the government changed its strategy.

The government isolated imprisoned gang leaders and employed the military to take on the gangs. Cotto said security forces killed 603 alleged criminals who attacked them.