Latin America & Caribbean

Guatemala prison violence ends with 17 dead

Police frisk prison inmates as authorities retake control of the Granja de Rehabilitacion Canada, in Escuintla, Guatemala (Nov. 30, 2015) Image copyright AP
Image caption The security forces regained control of the prison on Monday

The Guatemalan authorities say the death toll in a prison fight which began on Sunday has risen to 17.

The Deputy Interior Minister, Elmer Sosa said order had now been restored at the prison in the town of Escuintla, about 60km (37 miles) south of the capital, Guatemala City.

A prison spokesman said a fight had apparently broken out between rival gangs on Sunday night.

The jail is notorious for overcrowding and violence.

"All the dead are prisoners, we have ruled out any guards among the dead," said Rudy Esquivel, a spokesman for the prison system.

"We are still investigating the cause of the clash."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption More than 2,000 police were deployed at the prison, backed by dozens of soldiers and an armoured vehicle

More than 3,000 prisoners are held at the jail, which was built to house just 600.

Special forces and the army were sent into the prison to take control and at one point, about 2,300 inmates were engaged in a stand-off with the security forces.

Elmer Sosa, the Deputy Interior Minister, confirmed that some of the inmates had guns.

Mr Sosa said that there were conflicting theories as to what had triggered the violence.

He said there were reports that convicted gang members had clashed with inmates without any gang affiliation after visiting hours on Sunday.

There were also local media reports saying the inmates had held a number of visitors hostage.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Guatemalan authorities said all those killed in the violence were prisoners
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Family members waited for hours for the authorities to regain control of the prison

But Mr Sosa said another possibility was that inmates had turned violent after guards had foiled an attempted prison break.

Earlier this year, guards scuppered another escape attempt when they discovered a tunnel underneath the prison.

Members of violent street gangs make up the bulk of Guatemala's prison population and deadly gang warfare inside prison walls is not uncommon.

Severe overcrowding makes it hard for guards to control the prisoners - who are often heavily armed with home-made weapons as well as firearms smuggled into the jail.

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