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Rebel Prison Farm Inmates, Families Stand Off Army and Police

March 28, 1989

SANTA CATARINA PINULA, Guatemala (AP) _ Rebellious inmates Monday night allowed 15 adults and four children o leave a prison where armed convicts and hundreds of family members are standing off army and police forces.

The inspector-general of the National Prisons System, Carlos Ramos Moncada, said he does not consider as hostages the more than 600 non-inmates still inside Guatemala’s biggest prison, 15 miles east of Guatemala City.

″They remain there by choice,″ he told The Associated Press in an interview outside the prison’s main gate. ″The family members still inside are backing the movement.″

Ramos Moncada said the last people considered hostages - four doctors and two firemen held for 24 hours - were released at midday.

At least four guards and three inmates were killed and 20 people wounded in battles that broke out as prisoners tried to escape on Easter Sunday afternoon.

The 19 family members escorted out at 7 p.m. Monday spent about 30 hours in the Pavon prison. Like the 607 family members believed still inside, they were paying Easter visits to jailed relatives when the uprising began.

Ramos Moncada said the prison mutineers had about 75 M-1 carbines taken from prison guard dormitories. He said from 75 to 100 inmates belong to what he repeatedly referred to as ″the movement.″

Officials said about 1,350 inmates are at the 2 1/2 -square-mile prison farm and up to 100 joined in the revolt. Prisoners who did not take part apparently remained in areas not controlled by the rebels.

The inspector-general said prisoner demands - for better food and reduced sentences - had not changed since Sunday. He said they did not demand a plane to fly to Cuba as reported by a local radio station.

Clementina Diaz and her 2-year-old son Miguel Angel were among those leaving the prison Monday night.

Mrs. Diaz, who was visiting her eldest son Gerardo on Sunday, said she was escorted her out because her little boy had a fever. She said rebels asked visitors if they had health problems that made their stay impossible.

Alicia Rodriguez, who was visiting her husband, cried as she spoke from inside a Red Cross van outside the gate.

″I was sick from nerves,″ she said, explaining her departure.

Ramos Moncada said President Vinicio Cerezo ordered prison and other authorities ″to exhaust every alternative″ in negotiating a solution. ″Peace and tranquillity is the strict order,″ he said.

Local news reports said Cerezo gave orders to avoid bloodshed. A 15-minute exchange of gunfire took place Monday morning, but no casualties were reported.

Ramos Moncada said ″serious problems remain″ in resolving the crisis. ″(The rebels) must reform their conduct and surrender the weapons.″

Prison spokesman Conrado Monroy earlier told reporters family members ″fear that if they leave, authorities will take reprisals against the rebel inmates.″

Troops were rushed to Pavon when the insurrection began, and on Monday about 1,000 soldiers and police were reinforcing the prison’s 180 guards as officials negotiated with the rebels.

Monroy said the rebels added to their demands on Monday, saying they wanted to be flown to Cuba. He did not elaborate.

Federal Human Rights Director Gonzalo Menendez de la Riva spent about five hours inside the prison farm Monday negotiating with the inmates. He reported later that the women and children there need food.

Ricardo Gatica, a journalist for El Grafico newspaper, entered the prison Sunday as a negotiator. He said a carbine was held at his temple and a knife at his chest for the first few minutes.

The inmates ″were aggressive and confused, sometimes arguing among each other,″ he said.

Update hourly