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Fears of a return to bloody gang war on the streets of El Salvador as security minister is ousted by Supreme Court

Up to 60,000 members of rival gangs MS-13 and 18 Street could break ceasefire orchestrated by David Mungia Payes
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Up to 60,000 members of El Salvador's two most notorious gangs could be on the risk of a bloody new street war after a move by the Central American country's highest court.

Both the Mara Salvatruchas (MS-13) and 18 Street gangs, renowned for their kidnappings and brutal murders, had agreed to a ceasefire last year.

But a Supreme Court ruling this week declared that the appointment of security minister David Mungia Payes, a major player in orchestrating the truce, was illegal and that he and the police chief Francisco Salinas must resign, sparking fears of a return to violence.

Prisons are being forced to be extra vigilant and photos have emerged of incarcerated rival gang members - many heavily tattooed to display loyalty - handing over smuggled weapons and mobile phones in jail.

The Supreme Court justifies its rulings with the fact that both Payes and Salinas are ex-army generals, when their posts should be filled by "civilians".

The president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes is concerned at the ruling, saying he has "no doubt that behind the arguments of the court is a very clear anti-military bias".

Despite the general populations fear of a return to war, representatives of both MS-13 and 18 Street have confirmed that they will uphold the ceasefire, provided that it is supported by the security authorities.

The roots of both gangs lie in 1980s Los Angeles, where El Salvadorian immigrants had fled to following the country's civil war. On their return, they brought back a deadly gang culture.

Following the ceasefire, brokered by the Catholic church, the country saw a massive drop in the murder rate.

Over 4,000 murders occurred annually in El Salvador between 2009 and 2011, but since the treaty last March, there have been less than 2,200.