U.S. pressures El Salvador to extradite wanted MS-13 leaders

FILE PHOTO: A police officer detains a man in a seized MS-13 gang usurped house during a "Casa Segura" (Safe House) operation at Jardines de San Bartolo neighborhood, in Ilopango, El Salvador, September 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department on Friday asked authorities in El Salvador to "immediately" extradite leaders of the international criminal gang MS-13 to be put on trial in the United States.

The request is the latest chapter in Washington's increasingly complicated relationship with the government of President Nayib Bukele.

Patrick Ventrell, the U.S. Charge d'Affaires to El Salvador, requested the extradition of Eliu Melgar, alias "Blue", who has been held in El Salvador since 2018 for allegedly ordering homicides and other crimes on the U.S. east coast.

"The best way for the government of El Salvador to show that it is serious about a real, lasting and sustainable solution to reduce gang violence is to extradite the most dangerous leaders," Ventrell said in a press conference.

In January 2021, U.S. prosecutors charged 14 leaders of MS-13 with terrorism.

Authorities in El Salvador, who did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment, have declined to provide details on the whereabouts of the gang members. For its part, the country's Supreme Court of Justice assured in 2021 that it would carry out an "analysis" of extradition requests.

Bukele has clashed repeatedly with the Biden administration, which has sanctioned several Salvadoran officials close to the president.

On Friday, El Salvador's ambassador to the United States, Milena Mayoga, posted a photo on Twitter of her with President Joe Biden.

"What we ask for is a relationship based on respect, independence, and sovereignty," she wrote, not addressing the extradition request.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Brendan O'Boyle; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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