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US urges free, fair Honduras polls, condemns violence

Honduran Military Policemen (PM) patrol the southern outskirts of Tegucigalpa on October 14, 2013
Honduran Military Policemen (PM) patrol the southern outskirts of Tegucigalpa on October 14, 2013

The United States Monday voiced concern about rising violence in Honduras and called for free and fair presidential elections next month, in a country with one of the world's highest crime rates.

US lawmakers last week sent Secretary of State John Kerry a letter expressing alarm over the power wielded by state security forces over key Honduran institutions as well as the creation of a new military police force.

The ruling party's grip included "the country's electoral authority and the military, which distributes the ballots -- leaving scarce recourse for Honduran citizens should fraud be committed in the electoral process, or human rights violations continue to threaten debate," the lawmakers wrote.

State Department officials told AFP that Washington remained concerned about the high levels of violence in Honduras, but that it believed civilian police should take "the lead on law enforcement issues."

Last week, Honduras deployed 1,000 military police in its two biggest cities to step up the right against organized crime before the November 24 election.

The military police force was approved by the Honduran Congress on August 22, and came into power on October 3 under the government of President Porfirio Lobo.

"Generally, military forces and civilian police forces are trained with different skills and for different purposes," a State Department official told AFP.

"In our view, the creation of a military police force distracts attention from civilian police reform efforts and strains limited resources."

Honduras was the scene of a protracted political crisis in 2009 after president Manuel Zelaya was ousted by the military, with the backing of the Congress and the Supreme Court.

After a de facto government, Lobo was elected for a four year term that ends in January.

Washington was seeking to "encourage Honduran citizens to exercise their democratic right to vote peacefully and lawfully," the US official said.

"We also call on all candidates, as well as party and electoral officials, to ensure that Hondurans' democratic engagement is fully respected through a fair and transparent electoral process."

The State Department also stressed it did not provide any assistance to the Honduran military police force.

Washington's "support is aimed at the establishment of a transparent, competent, and adequately-resourced civilian police force," the official said.

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