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Honduras calls in troops to help chase hundreds of escapees

August 13, 1997

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ Most of the 700 inmates who escaped from two Honduran prisons this week after staging fiery riots have been captured or have surrendered following an intense manhunt.

Troops and police searched house-to-house in two cities after the prisoners fled their overcrowded prisons Monday, stealing taxis and hiding in homes to elude authorities.

About 300 of the prisoners had been recaptured by Tuesday morning and most of the remaining 400 surrendered to police in the western city of Santa Barbara and the northern port of Trujillo, police said.

``There was a widespread operation, and forces combed several mountains to locate the escapees,″ police spokesman Lt. Wilmer Suazo said.

An estimated 500 prisoners escaped in Santa Barbara, 125 miles west of Tugcigalpa, while about 200 prisoners fled after setting fire to the facility in Trujillo, 150 miles northeast on the Atlantic coast. The breakouts left the prisons empty of inmates.

Police did not say how many were still at large.

Santa Barbara Gov. Fabio Cantillo said about 300 inmates from the city’s prison were recaptured and 100 turned themselves in.

``The uprising was provoked by overcrowding of the prisoners, 250 of whom were held in cells designed for 110,″ Cantillo said.

Many inmates in Honduras are kept in buildings constructed as housing rather than as prisons, enabling inmates in Monday’s riots to punch holes in the walls and escape.

The fires damaged a hospital near the prison in Trujillo and destroyed four houses in Santa Barbara, where most shops were closed Tuesday. Trujillo prison director Jose Romero said one inmate bled to death after guards shot him during his escape.

Interior Minister Efrain Moncada Silva appointed two commissions to look into the incidents.

``The time has come to take rapid decisions. If we don’t, the crisis in the national prison system will explode,″ Moncada Silva said Tuesday.

The impoverished country’s 24 prisons hold 10,000 inmates _ nearly 90 percent of whom are either on trial or awaiting trial. Food and medical care are poor, facilities are old and overcrowded and supervision is often weak.

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