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Government Offers Concessions to Prison Mutineers

March 30, 1989

SANTA CATARINA PINULA, Guatemala (AP) _ The government late Wednesday promised to replace the warden and all guards at a besieged prison and work to reform prisons nationwide if armed inmates surrender and set hostages free.

The proposal was delivered by Gonzolo Menendez de la Riva, the attorney general for human rights and chief government negotiator, in an attempt to end the 4-day-old uprising and free hundreds of inmates and family members in the compound.

After meeting inside the sprawling Pavon prison farm complex with representatives of the mutinous convicts, he said they would respond Thursday.

About 110 prisoners who took no part in the rebellion escaped from the section under inmate control Wednesday and were transferred to other institutions.

Twenty family members of inmates trapped inside when the uprising began on Easter Sunday also made their way out.

The government also pledged to relay to ″pertinent authorities″ the rebels’ request for pardons for crimes committed during the uprising and to guarantee the physical safety of the convicts once they give up their arms and release those inside.

Seven to 12 people died in the uprising, including at least four guards and three inmates, authorities said.

The mutineers presumably fear vengenace at the hands of the slain guards’ comrades.

The government also promised on Wednesday to promote ″strict application″ of a law providing for reduction of sentences through work and present to Congress a proposal from the mutineers for a nationwide reduction of all prison sentences by five years.

Any pardon or amnesty for crimes committed during the rebellion would have to be enacted by Congress.

Edmundo Vasquez Martinez, president of the Supreme Court, said Wednesday the court could not bestow pardons for crimes committed at Pavon.

Authorities early Wednesday cut off water and power to rebel inmates holed up with hundreds of friends and relatives in a bid to end the mutiny.

The first thing that would-be escapee Victor Hugo Trujillo asked for when he was seized on Wednesday was water.

Speaking from the window of a bus that was to take him to another prison, Trujillo told The Associated Press he had not eaten for three days and had not had water since Tuesday afternoon.

″We suffered so much,″ Trujillo said. ″We had no other choice but try to escape.″

″It’s the only way we can pressure them (the rebellious inmates),″ Carlos Ramos Moncada, inspector general of prisons, said of the water and power cutoff. ″If we don’t, they could stay inside for days or weeks.″

The inmates responded by offering to surrender if the guards were replaced at Pavon prison farm, 15 miles east of Guatemala City, negotiator Julio Escobar Arango, said.

Between 75 and 100 prisoners armed with rifles have been in control of key sections of the 1,350-inmate prison since the Easter Sunday rebellion.

About 600 people - mostly women and children - were visiting when the uprising broke out. Authorities differ on whether they are hostages or whether they stayed inside to protect their loved ones from security force reprisals.

About 100 black-helmeted military police arrived Wednesday to reinforce the 1,000 police and army troopers ringing the prison. President Vinicio Cerezo has said they will not use force unless the prisoners try to shoot their way out.

The rebels were described as hardened criminals serving long sentences for crimes such as murder and kidnapping. They reportedly include former members of the security forces.

One visitor trapped by the insurrection, 8-year-old tortilla vendor Martin Osorio, was brought out Wednesday by the Red Cross.

The boy, who said he had stayed in the prison kitchen, appeared weak and a bit dazed but said he had not gone hungry.

Convicts not involved in the rebellion and family members who left Pavon on Tuesday said food stocks were almost completely depleted.

″They’ve eaten all the rabbits and chickens,″ said Carlos Mendoza Ramirez, 21, after emerging from the 2 1/2 -square-mile farm complex.

He and about 20 other inmates not involved in the uprising were transferred to another prison after making their way out of Pavon.

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