Venezuela: Inmates urged to end riot

2011-06-22 17:31

Caracas - Venezuelan authorities urged rebellious inmates to put down their weapons on Tuesday, saying they would continue pressing for a peaceful end to a days-long prison conflict pitting armed inmates against National Guard troops.

Maria Mercedes Berthe, an official from the Attorney General's Office, said authorities would insist on reaching an agreement with inmates at the Rodeo II prison even through those efforts have been rejected in recent days.

"If we have to continue for another week, we're willing to do it," Berthe told Union Radio.

Troops have attempted for the last five days to dislodge a group of heavily armed prisoners who have staved off their attempts to retake control of Rodeo II located in a Caracas suburb.

A 5 000-strong security force has engaged in gunbattles with inmates at Rodeo II and the adjacent lockup Rodeo I since the military launched a weapons search on Friday.

Berthe said a small group of inmates has prevented others from leaving the prison.

Seeking to extend conflict

Violence erupted in the Rodeo I prison on June 12 when a riot broke out that left 22 people dead. Days later, thousands of troops stormed the prison to disarm the inmates.

National Guard General Luis Motta Dominguez said on Monday that leaders of the violent uprising inside Rodeo II are seeking to extend the conflict, calling fellow inmates inside other prisons to convince them to attack National Guard troops.

Venezuela's severely crowded prisons have suffered repeated violent outbursts as rival gangs fight for control of cellblocks and the sale of weapons and drugs.

The country's 30 prisons were built to hold 12 500 prisoners but instead hold about 49 000, according to the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, a group that monitors prison conditions. Last year, 476 people died and 967 were injured in prison violence, according to figures compiled by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Carlos Nieto, director of A Window to Freedom, a local non-governmental organisation, called on prosecutors to investigate National Guard troops who have taken bribes from inmates at numerous prisons in return for contraband such as weapons and ammunition. Berthe said prosecutors would look into those allegations.

Authorities released a list on Monday of 2 500 inmates from Rodeo I and Rodeo II who have been transferred to other prisons in recent days, drawing relatives of inmates to the list posted on walls outside the prison. Such relatives have been desperately seeking information about the fate of their loved ones.