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Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 05:28 GMT 06:28 UK
Guatemalan troops hunt escaped inmates
An escapee is recaptured following the jailbreak
The jailbreak was masterminded by a small group
By Mike Lancin

Soldiers and police have been combing the southern provinces of Guatemala, in a search for the dangerous criminals who shot their way out of a maximum security jail in the country's largest jailbreak in recent times.


The prison directors have already been captured because surely they were involved in the escape

Interior Minister Byron Barientos
The directors of the prison were arrested amid accusations of complicity, Interior Minister Byron Barrientos said.

The authorities reported late Monday that only nine of the 78 of the escapees had so far been recaptured.

One prisoner was killed by the escaping inmates before they took flight, while two others drowned trying to cross a river outside the jail.

The authorities now believe that Sunday's massive jailbreak was masterminded by a small group of just five inmates in the maximum security prison.

'Helping hand'

Three of them were awaiting execution for a series of crimes, including kidnapping and murder. Their death sentences had been confirmed by an appeals court just last week.

Another of the apparent ringleaders was serving a 63-year sentence for a variety of offences, while another was awaiting sentencing for killing an entire family last year.


We escaped because the doors were opened

Recaptured prisoner
The authorities are also convinced that the inmates had a helping hand from a group of prison guards.

According to Mr Barrientos, the escapees had to get through 14 different locked doors as well as a sophisticated security system in order to reach the outside world.

They shot their way past some of the guard with AK47 assault rifles and automatic pistols - weapons which were apparently smuggled in during Sunday's Fathers' Day celebrations at the jail.

One of the recaptured prisoners told reporters that he had escaped because he saw that the doors were open.

Shockwaves

Once outside the five ringleaders sped away in an awaiting car. The other inmates who had followed them out hijacked two buses at gunpoint or fled on foot.

Police escort prison employees
The directors of the maximum security prison were arrested
The massive jailbreak has sent shockwaves through the Guatemalan population at a time of one of the worst crimewaves in the country's recent history.

Last year 10 long-term criminals broke free from a Guatemala City jail - only three have been recaptured.

Observers believe that this second escape of dangerous criminals in just over a year will further dent the population's already low confidence in the police and judicial authorities.

Analysts say it could also fuel a rise in mob lynching of suspected criminals, which has recently been on the rise in rural areas of the country.

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See also:

18 Jun 01 | Americas
Soldiers join jailbreak manhunt
15 Apr 01 | Americas
Bloody end to Brazil jail siege
29 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Guatemala
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