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Juvenile prisoners kill guards, take hostages in Guatemala

Monday, March 20, 2017 | 9:12 PM    

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SAN JOSÉ PINULA, Guatemala (AFP) — Guatemalan police stormed a juvenile detention center outside the capital Monday to free four guards taken hostage by inmates who had killed two others during a riot.

Journalists outside the Stage II facility for boys in the town of San Jose Pinula, to the east of Guatemala City, saw dozens of armed tactical officers rush inside the blue-and-white building surrounded by barbed wire fences, while others took positions on the roof. Yells and detonations were heard from inside during the raid.

President Jimmy Morales later tweeted: "Thanks to God and to the quick and efficient action of our @PNCdeGuatemala (Guatemala's national police force), the four guards held were rescued alive."

The scene unfolded less than two weeks after 40 teenage girls died in a fire at a nearby overcrowded youth shelter in the same town.


Officials earlier had said two security guards at the Stage II juvenile detention center were killed and five were wounded by the inmates. One of those was released early Monday and taken to hospital.

Pablo Castillo, a spokesman for the national police, told AFP that negotiations to free the remaining four guards taken hostage had broken down.

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.

The youth inmates were said to have rebelled 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 colleagues sent to other centers, better food and the easing of restrictions on visits.

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 blaze at the shelter.

The Stage II center was the scene of a battle between rival gangs in 2005 that 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 per cent of its 16 million inhabitants live in poverty, according to the World Bank.

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