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QUITO: Gunmen killed at least five people and wounded eight Sunday in a home in the Ecuadoran city of Guayaquil, hard hit by violence linked to drug trafficking.

One of the fatalities was a policeman shot in the head, said police colonel Fabary Montalvo.

Witnesses said three men on a motorcycle arrived at a home in the impoverished Isla Trinitaria part of the city, went inside and started shooting, Montalvo said.

Guayaquil, on Ecuador’s southern coast, is the Pacific country’s largest city, biggest port and economic hub.

In recent years, it has become one of the country’s increasingly bloody centers of a turf war between rival drug trafficking gangs.

The port city’s location makes it a strategic launch point for shipments of drugs to the United States and Europe.

Ecuador is located between Colombia and Peru, the world’s top producers of cocaine. Ecuador also conveniently has the US dollar as its currency, which is attractive to cartels versus other devalued ones.

Drug-linked crime has surged in Guayaquil, with the homicide rate nearly doubling between 2021 and 2022, from 14 to 25 per 100,000 inhabitants.

In April, at least 10 people were killed when heavily armed assailants opened fire outside a shop in Guayaquil. The port city has brown to 2.7 million people, as compared to Quito, the capital, with two million.

And last week, in the nearby town of Duran a prosecutor handling homicide cases was shot and killed.

Last year, Ecuadoran authorities seized 200 tons of drugs, mostly cocaine. -AFP