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01 Jun 2004 09:02
Inmates at a prison near Rio de Janeiro who shot and killed a guard and held 21 hostages agreed on Monday to a fresh round of negotiations with police on how to end the three day-old revolt, which also left nine other jailers and inmates injured.
Talks on Sunday involving police, prisoners and Roman Catholic church representatives were suspended after a guard was killed. Police agreed to resume negotiations on Monday morning.
The prison uprising started on Saturday, when detainees attempting to escape broke through the main gate of the Benfica prison in the northern Rio district of Leopoldina.
When police intervened, prisoners attacked the officers, grabbed their guns and took 26 guards and prison staffers hostage.
Fourteen inmates managed to escape, three of whom were recaptured by police.
The prisoners at Benfica had shot at the guard as he tried to escape on Sunday, said Teresa Mendes, a spokesperson for the Rio state prison system.
Two hostages were set free on Saturday afternoon in exchange for medical assistance for injured detainees, and one guard was freed Sunday morning and another Sunday evening, prison authorities said.
The local wire service O Globo Online added that the prisoners had tied another hostage to a gas canister and set fire to a corridor in the detention centre, which is used to hold people awaiting trial.
Prisoners are demanding that members of rival drug gangs be shifted to different prisons as a way to avoid often violent confrontations between inmates within prison walls.
Some 200 relatives of the Benfica inmates waited for news on Monday morning in a parking lot in front of the prison, which is wedged between a working class neighbourhood on one side and a hillside slum on the other. The area was patrolled by about 50 police officers wearing bullet-proof vests and carrying automatic weapons.
“We are getting no news from inside and that makes everyone scared,” said Angela de Paula (45) whose brother is an inmate at Benfica. “One prisoner called from inside by cellphone and said he was scared to death. He was trembling and crying.”
Rebellions and jailbreaks are common in Brazilian prisons, which are often criticised by human rights groups for overcrowding and abuses. During a riot in an overcrowded prison in the Amazon state of Rondonia in late April, inmates killed 14 fellow prisoners.
On Sunday, government officials, including the vice-secretary for human rights of Rio de Janeiro state, Paulo Bahia, and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church’s prison pastoral mission were inside the detention centre negotiating with the inmates.
Four policemen and five inmates were wounded in the initial shootout, she said. The five injured prisoners were taken to a hospital late on Saturday. None of the injuries were considered life-threatening.
It was not clear how many of the 900 inmates joined the uprising. Mendes said the rebelling inmates were members of the Red Command, Rio’s most notorious drug gang.
Authorities on Saturday had cut off electricity and water to the detention centre.
“Our strategy is to tire out the rebelling inmates while we negotiate with them,” Renato Homem, spokesperson for the Rio state Security Secretariat, said on Saturday.
Meanwhile, in Brazil’s largest city of Sao Paulo, 400km south of Rio de Janeiro, six heavily armed men marched into a detention centre in the early hours of Monday, city police said in a statement. They ordered the centre’s five guards to free all 188 prisoners at the centre.
According to the statement, 145 prisoners escaped, while 43 chose to remain at the center. Police recaptured 67 of the escapees. - Sapa-AP
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