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Last Updated: Friday, 10 February 2006, 03:01 GMT
'Vigilante killings' in Guatemala
The hand of one of the bodies beside the feet of policemen on the outskirts of Guatemala City
The bodies were found in a ditch in the capital's outskirts
The bodies of 12 people tortured and then murdered in apparent vigilante killings have been found in Guatemala.

In one incident, the bodies of five men and two women with distinctive gang tattoos were founded dumped in a ditch.

Alongside the bodies was a note saying they were gang members who had been extorting local residents.

The human rights ombudsman's office says there has been a big rise in executions in recent years and wants an urgent meeting with the government.

In a separate development on Wednesday, President Oscar Berger announced he planned to boost the police force by recruiting 3,000 ex-soldiers.

Correspondents say violence in Guatemala has reached levels not seen since the civil war ended in 1996.

Gang warfare

The seven bodies found on Thursday in a ditch on the outskirts of the capital Guatemala City all bore signs of torture and had their feet and hands bound, said police.

Some had been shot, while others had their throats slit or had been strangled.

"They are gang members of the Mara 18 who charged thousands of quetzales [the local currency] to buses and residents," a placard next to the bodies read.

Mara 18 is one of two gangs that have been blamed for a wave of killings and robberies across parts of Central America.

Four more bodies were discovered in cities near Guatemala City. One body, with its hands cut off, was found in Escuintla, 60 km (40 miles) south of the capital, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Gang raid kills 12 in Guatemala
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Country profile: Guatemala
11 Jan 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Guatemala
17 Nov 05 |  Country profiles

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