A large-scale security operation is under way in Ecuador to free dozens of prison guards who were taken hostage by inmates, the country’s interior minister says.
The minister, Juan Zapata, said the security forces had “taken control of the jails”, but he did not specify if the guards had been freed yet.
President Guillermo Lasso had earlier declared a state of emergency in the country’s jails.
Thousands of police have been deployed.
The security operation comes after days of violence which saw at least six people killed and 11 injured in Guayas prison in a fight between rival gangs in the port city of Guayaquil.
The deadly incident triggered unrest in a dozen other jails, where inmates went on hunger strike.
In at least five penitentiaries, prison guards were held against their will, Ecuador’s prison service, Snai, said in a statement released on Monday without giving an exact number of hostages.
The governor of Azuay province, Consuelo Orellana, said 53 guards were being held in Turi jail in the city of Cuenca alone.
The prison service said the hostages were “in good shape” and that every effort was being made to free them.
People living near Guayas prison reported hearing explosions early on Tuesday. Minister Zapata tried to reassure locals, telling reporters that they were “controlled explosions used to gain entry to blocked doors”.
The minister said that 2,700 members of the security forces had been deployed to Guayas prison, where they had “managed to regain control of three of the prison’s wings”.
Many of Ecuador’s prisons are severely overcrowded and the authorities struggle to keep members of rival gangs separate.
Hundreds of inmates have been killed in deadly gang fights in recent years. Attacks on rivals are often co-ordinated and riots often break out in prisons across different states simultaneously.
In other cases, a deadly fight in one prison triggers revenge attacks in other jails.
The government has struggled to contain the violence, which has blighted the prisons and the country as a whole.
On Monday, President Lasso declared a state of emergency and night curfews in three coastal provinces after a spate of murders over the weekend, including the killing of the mayor of the city of Manta. The measure will be in force for 60 days.
Source : BBC