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Prison Chief Quits Following Guerrilla Escape

February 1, 1990

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ The chief of the nation’s prisons quit Wednesday following the escape of 49 leftist guerrillas who spent a year secretly tunneling their way to freedom.

Six were captured shortly after they fled Tuesday but police continued to search for the 43 others, who included several guerrillas who tried to kill military President Augusto Pinochet in 1986.

The Supreme Court appointed a special investigator, Justice Juan Araya, who said he started his work ″immediately.″

Justice Minister Hugo Rosende said the government ″immediately accepted″ the resignation submitted by prison chief Col. Horacio Ojeda. Rosende did not elaborate but it appeared Ojeda took responsibility for the jail break.

The guerrillas fled through a 100-yard-long tunnel below a wide avenue, across the street from the national investigative police headquarters in downtown Santiago.

Adm. Jose Toribio Merino, commander in chief of the navy, said on television that he believed some prison guards helped the escapees.

″Imagine, they spent a full year digging a tunnel and no one saw anything,″ Merino said. ″Where did they put all the material they removed?″

Although he is the navy commander, Merino - like other officials in the military government - comment on virtually all matters of concern.

The government said it ordered an internal investigation of prison personnel.

The Santiago newspaper La Segunda reported that the officer in charge of the prison at the time of the escape was warned by some guards that ″something abnormal″ was happening, but that he paid no attention.

It said the officer, identified only as Lt. Gutierrez, ordered the guards to retrieve the cartridges from their automatic rifles after one guard fired a warning shot into the air.

Authorities did not comment on the paper’s report.

Police searching for the guerrillas set up roadblocks and increased security at airports and borders points. National police director, Fernando Paredes, appealed to ″all citizens to help us providing whatever information they think may be useful.″

Police also were seen watching many embassies in Santiago, apparently in an effort to prevent the escapees from seeking asylum.

Most of them were members of the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front, an urban guerrilla gang that has claimed responsibility for a number of armed attacks against Chile’s military regime, including the attempt on Pinochet’s life on Sept. 7, 1986.

Pinochet was unharmed when his motorcade was ambushed in the Andes foothills near Santiago, but six of his bodyguards were killed.

Pinochet took power following a 1973 coup that topped elected President Salvador Allende. He is scheduled to turn over power to a civilian government in February.

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