Venezuela's Sabaneta jail search yields weapons arsenal

Prison Minister Iris Varela showed journalists the weapons seized in Sabaneta jail

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A security sweep of Venezuela's Sabaneta prison, where 16 inmates were killed in gang violence, has uncovered more than a hundred weapons and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Inmates were temporarily moved from Sabaneta, near the city of Maracaibo, after the violent fight between rival gangs two weeks ago.

Some of the victims were reportedly decapitated and dismembered.

Prisons in Venezuela are notoriously overcrowded and riots are not uncommon.

Hidden stash

Prison Minister Iris Varela said guards had searched about half of the prison grounds so far, seizing more than 22,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as pistols and rifles.

Items found in Sabaneta jail

  • 22,767 rounds of ammunition
  • 105 firearms
  • 92 home-made stab weapons
  • 75 knives
  • 5 grenades
  • 2 mortars
  • Tear gas canisters
  • 12kg of drugs
  • 135 mobile phones

The sweep also uncovered tunnels of up to 15m (50ft) depth, in which more than 12kg (26lb) of marijuana and cocaine were stored.

"The weight of the law will fall heavily on those bandits found to be smuggling these items into jail," Ms Varela said.

She said the weapons would be melted down and the steel used in the construction of new homes.

According to data gathered by the pressure group Venezuelan Prison Observatory, Sabaneta is Venezuela's most violent prison, with 69 people killed behind its bars so far this year.

Venezuela has one of the highest crime and homicide rates in Latin America and the judicial system is struggling to cope with the caseload.

The prison population has been increasing with many of those incarcerated waiting for trial.

The Venezuelan Prison Observatory says that 80% of jails are run by armed inmates, with the security forces having little or no control.

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