El Salvador's government continues to step up its fight against criminal groups after declaring a state of emergency in March and arresting more than 58,000 suspected gang members.

Soldiers and police took up positions on all of the city's access roads, allowing no one in or out without first being searched.
Soldiers and police took up positions on all of the city's access roads, allowing no one in or out without first being searched. (AFP)

President Nayib Bukele has announced 10,000 Salvadoran army troops and police officers are surrounding the populous city of Soyapango, on the outskirts of capital San Salvador.

"As of this moment, the municipality of Soyapango is totally surrounded," Bukele said on Twitter on Saturday, adding that 8,500 soldiers and 1,500 agents have been deployed.

The operation was part of a state of emergency declared by Bukele earlier this spring following a surge in gang violence.

The president had announced last month a plan to use troops to surround cities while house-by-house searches are conducted for gang members. Soyapango is the first city subjected to that approach.

Earlier in the day, soldiers and police took up positions on all of the city's access roads, allowing no one in or out without first being searched.

Bukele said uniformed officers would be "removing, one by one, all the gang members who are still there."

READ MORE: El Salvador's Bukele deploys military, seeks to boost anti-gang push

No one in or out

Soyapango, one of the country's largest cities, has long been considered unsafe due to gang activity. 

A few months ago the authorities began removing the graffiti that gangs use to mark their territory.

The nationwide state of emergency, which allows detention without court order, followed a surge in violence that claimed 87 lives between March 25 and 27. 

Since Bukele declared the state of emergency in March, more than 58,000 suspected gang members have been arrested, though humanitarian groups have questioned what they say can be heavy-handed tactics.

READ MORE: El Salvador destroys tombs of 'terrorists' in fight against gangs

Source: AFP