Alfredo Villatoro Dead: Murder Of Honduran Reporter Blamed On Drug Gangs

By Gustavo Palencia

TEGUCIGALPA, May 16 (Reuters) - A prominent Honduran radio journalist was killed by drug gangs in retaliation for a government crackdown on cartels, the country's security minister said on Wednesday.

Alfredo Villatoro, a well-known media personality, was found shot in the head on Tuesday a week after being kidnapped, the latest attack on the media in the violent Central American nation.

The attack on Villatoro comes as police have stepped up arrests of traffickers and prosecutors have pushed for extraditions

"(Drug gangs) are trying to frighten Honduran society," said Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla in a statement to a local television station.

Honduras has the world's highest murder rate - more than 80 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants last year - as the isthmus nation is increasingly used as a transit route for cocaine moving from South America to the United States.

Villatoro was a director of HRN radio, one of the oldest broadcast stations in the country. He is the second reporter killed this month after journalist and gay-rights activist Erick Martinez was murdered last week.

Four other broadcast journalists were murdered last year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Last month, gunmen fired at the home and car of two television reporters, though no one was killed.

"We believe this is a message from organized crime. The government must take responsibility and stop this killing spree," Carlos Ortiz, president of the Honduran Press Association said.

Mexican drug cartels have become more active in Central America in recent years and are blamed for much of the violence.

Lawmakers last year approved legislation that allows the extradition of suspected criminals wanted abroad, particularly in the United States. (Reporting by Gustavo Palencia, Writing by Patrick Rucker; Editing by Jackie Frank)