El Salvador has responded to claims by U.S. President Donald Trump that it is partially responsible for the rise in MS-13 gang violence in the United States and "steals" U.S. funds intended to combat drug-trafficking.
Trump's derisory comments about El Salvador "again, go against the dignity of the country, as well as omit efforts and contributions" to combat criminal gangs, the Salvadoran Foreign Ministry said in a statement Saturday.
Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren used his Twitter account to address U.S. citizens: "America, in response to statements made in social networks against #ElSalvador by President Donald Trump, who is not in adherence to the historic relationship between our two nations...
"We execute a strategy against criminal groups through hard blows to their structures and finances, arresting their ringleaders and more violent members; research operations in regional coordination and with the U.S. Agency."
On Friday, Trump had sparked the controversy by posting on Twitter: "MS-13 gang members are being removed by our great ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and Border Patrol Agents by the thousands, but these killers come back in from El Salvador, and through Mexico, like water.
"El Salvador just takes our money, and Mexico must help MORE with this problem. We need The Wall," Trump wrote.
El Salvador responded by sending a statement to the White House, expressing its "surprise at the accusations" and calling Trump's attention "to the historical reality of the relationship maintained by both nations."
The MS-13 gang has expanded significantly in recent years, with more than 10,000 members now spread across 40 U.S. states, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in December, calling the group one of America's "most dangerous gangs."
Shortly after Trump's Twitter outburst, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikky Haley announced she will shortly be touring Guatemala and Honduras, leaving El Salvador conspicuously off the itinerary.