Guatemalan police arrest powerful Salvadoran gang leader

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (Reuters) - Guatemalan police arrested one of the top leaders of the Salvadoran criminal gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) on Tuesday and confiscated arms and vehicles, a police spokesman said.

Mara Salvatrucha and rival gang Barrio 18 control entire city neighbourhoods in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Their feuds, extortion rackets and fights with security forces make the three countries among the world's deadliest nations outside a war zone in terms of murder rates.

Hundreds of thousands of people flee the gang violence every year, migrating to the United States and Mexico, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Pedro Benjamin Rivas Zelaya, also known as Jose Isaias Flores De Paz, was on El Salvador's top 10 most-wanted list after escaping a police raid in his home country, where he is accused of aggravated homicide and being a member of a terrorist organization.

"Flores De Paz, alias 'Sniper' was wanted internationally," said police spokesman Pablo Castillo.

Rivas will be handed over to Salvadoran authorities, he said.

Guatemalan police arrested at least six other people and seized rifles, pistols, grenades and stolen cars during the operation, he said.

(Reporting by Bill Barreto; Additional reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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