Gang prisoners kill guards, take hostages in Guatemala

Red Cross paramedics carry a guard injured after a riot by underage inmates, outside the Correctional Center Stage 2, in San Jose Pinula, Guatemala, March 19, 2017. Photo: Reuters

SAN JOSE PINULA, Guatemala - Jailed gang members killed two guards and held four others hostage in a riot in a juvenile detention centre in Guatemala, police said Monday.

The violence broke out late Sunday in the Stage II juvenile detention centre for boys in the town of San Jose Pinula, just to the east of the capital Guatemala City.

The deadly unrest came less than two weeks after 40 teenage girls died in a fire at a nearby overcrowded youth shelter.

Pablo Castillo, spokesperson for the national police, said one security guard at the Stage II juvenile detecentre center was killed. A separate police source, who asked not to be named, later told AFP a second guard had died.

"They are still holding four guards," Castillo told AFP.

He said police had taken control of "80 percent" of the facility and negotiations were underway to try to get the guards released.

The Guatemalan prosecutor's office for human rights said about 40 members of the feared Barrio 18 gang had led the revolt Sunday in the Stage II juvenile center. 

Fire fighters put out a blaze that had started in part of the facility.

An AFP journalist outside the blue-and-white center saw male detainees, their hair cut short, crowding at barred doors and windows. Armed police patrolled the exterior

One of the hostage guards spoke with journalists through a window grill.

Alleged maltreatment

The youth inmates were said to be rebelling against maltreatment by guards. 

A similar motive was reported in the nearby Virgin of the Assumption shelter, where teenagers had claimed sexual and other abuse by personnel before the deadly March 8 fire. Staff denied the allegations.

That deadly blaze prompted public indignation and numerous protests that have rocked the government of President Jimmy Morales.

Local media reports said the Stage II inmates had made a series of demands, including the return of comrades who had been sent to other centers, better food, and the easing of restrictions on visits.

According to police, one wounded guard at Stage II was released by the inmates early Monday and taken to hospital. 

Both the Stage II and Virgin of the Assumption facilities are managed by the social welfare ministry.

Its head, Carlos Rodas, and several of his officials were dismissed and arrested in the wake of the deadly blaze at the shelter early this month.

The Stage II center was the scene of a battle between rival gangs in 2005 which left 14 people dead.

The facility held gang members mixed with other detainees unaffiliated with the gangs, according to Hilda Morales, a deputy prosecutor for human rights.

Vladimir Lopez, one of the senior officials in the social welfare ministry, said there were 56 gang members inside. Although the center was meant to be for minors, only 17 of those gang detainees were aged under 18 and the rest were adults.

The head of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Roberto Caldas of Brazil, said during a session being held in Guatemala that the situation for children in the country needed improvement.

Guatemala is one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America, prey to Barrio 18 and other gangs. Nearly 60 percent of its 16 million inhabitants live in poverty, according to the World Bank.


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