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The BBC's Mike Lanchin
"Inmates took advantage of lax security"
 real 28k

Monday, 18 June, 2001, 06:09 GMT 07:09 UK
Soldiers join jailbreak manhunt
Prison officials are taken into custody following a jailbreak in Guatemala on Sunday
Guards were detained, suspected of aiding the escape
By Mike Lanchin in Central America

Hundreds of soldiers have been mobilised in Guatemala to join in a search for dangerous convicts who escaped from a maximum security prison in the south of the country - the biggest jail break in Guatemala's recent history.

Seventy-six prisoners shot their way out of the jail midday on Sunday.

The authorities say that while two died as they tried to cross a river near the prison, only another seven have so far been re-captured.

Jailbreak by the numbers
76 escaped prisoners
Two die trying to cross river
Seven recaptured
19 prison officials arrested
Two officials killed
Eighteen prison guards, as well as the deputy director of the prison were immediately arrested, pending an investigation into their part in the mass breakout.

It appears that inmates took advantage of large crowds for Sunday's Father's Day celebrations at the prison.

It was halfway through visiting hours, when one group, armed with AK-47 assault rifles which had apparently been smuggled in earlier in the day, began their breakout.

A woman police officer and a guard died as the prisoners attempted to shoot their way out of the supposedly maximum security installation.

Hijackings

Once outside, one group hijacked a bus with 14 passengers aboard in order to escape.

Others stopped cars at gunpoint on the busy highway leading south.


The authorities have said that they believe some of the inmates were making for the border with neighbouring El Salvador, and others north to the border with Mexico.

According to local radio, by nightfall some of the escapees had been surrounded after taking refuge in nearby villages.

The prison, one of Guatemala's more modern penitentiaries, holds some of the country's most dangerous criminals.

Convicted kidnappers and bank robbers are among those who escaped.

Two men awaiting their execution at the jail also broke free, but they are apparently among those already re-captured.

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See also:

15 Apr 01 | Americas
Bloody end to Brazil jail siege
29 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Guatemala
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