San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Honduras orders military into prisons after gun battle

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – The Honduran military and police have been ordered to retake control of the Central American country’s prisons after a weekend gun battle left three people dead in one of them, officials said on Monday.

“We have received instructions from the president to act immediately,” General René Osorio, head of joint chiefs of the armed forces, told Río Globo.

He said President Porfirio Lobo was meeting later in the day with his national security team to lay out a strategy to wrest control of the country’s violent, overcrowded prison system from the inmates.

“Drastic measures are going to be taken to prevent the death of those deprived of their liberty and to avoid corruption in the penal centers,” the general said.

On Saturday, three members of the Mara-18 (M-18) gang were killed and six other inmates wounded in a battle involving AK-47 assault rifles and at least three grenades at the Tamara National Penitentiary, 20 kilometers north of Tegucigalpa.

Until now, responsibility for security at the prisons has belonged to the penitentiary service.

But a report Friday by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission warned that authorities had ceded control of the prisons to the inmates, citing a lack of manpower.

Allowing inmates to run the prisons had led to widespread abuses, and was enabling criminals to plan kidnappings and other crimes from behind bars, the report said.

It also reported that the country’s 24 prisons were more than 40 percent over capacity.

The report found that its 12,300 inmates live in deplorable conditions, with a lack of medical assistance, inadequate supplies of food and drinking water, and no separation of inmates by the seriousness of their crimes.

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