By Nelson Renteria
SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - El Salvador's attorney general on Friday said he plans to investigate allegations that the government of President Nayib Bukele is negotiating with members of a notorious gang to reduce homicides.
When the number of homicides in the poor Central American country started to drop, Brussels-based International Crisis Group suggested it might be down to "quiet, informal understandings between the gangs and the government".
"Of course we are going to investigate," prosecutor Raul Melara said on television after newspaper El Faro published prison documents purportedly showing government dealings with a gang. "No one should take advantage of the institutions to negotiate with terrorists."
The presidency did not respond to a request for comment but Bukele on Twitter called El Faro's article a "sham".
Director of prisons Osiris Luna called the allegations false and termed them "political maneuvering." El Faro, citing the documents, reported Luna was involved in the negotiations.
Official prison documents that were not previously made public detail how Bukele's government has been negotiating with the leaders of the powerful Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang, the paper said.
The gang would reduce violence in exchange for better prison conditions, El Faro said. The two sides have also discussed MS-13 support for the government in legislative elections next year, the paper said.
Murder rates have dropped significantly under Bukele's government, which assumed power in June 2019. Homicides have dropped 56% between January and September this year, compared with the same period in 2019.
Bukele has attributed the drop to an increased police and military presence on streets and tighter security in gang-controlled jails.
Several current and former officials of parties across the spectrum have been investigated and prosecuted for similar allegations of past agreements with gangs in exchange for benefits and electoral support.
(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Stefanie Eschenbacher and Drazen Jorgic; editing by Alistair Bell and Grant McCool)