Ecuador prison riots: 27 bodies found but beheading may not be among deaths

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Officials have identified the bodies of 24 inmates who authorities believe to have been killed in prison riots and unexplained deaths in Ecuador’s largest jail in nearly two decades.

Authorities said on Thursday they had found more than 120 bodies, including the 24 who appeared to have been decapitated or had hands and legs hacked off. Three people have been arrested in connection with the unrest.

“We won’t know if more bodies have been found,” the press ombudsman, Luis Alvarado, told reporters.

The unrest began on Wednesday morning in the north of Aguaytia jail, which holds more than 2,000 inmates, authorities said.

The unrest spread to another prison in neighbouring San Pablo as inmates tore down walls and barricaded themselves inside the facility, which houses more than 1,800 inmates. The incident ended early on Thursday, with authorities saying the building was empty.

At a news conference on Thursday, Juan Carlos Cantolares, Ecuador’s ombudsman, said investigators have found evidence to suggest that the 30 bodies who were decapitated were not those of those who were killed in the riots.

The death toll from the prison fighting and other acts of violence this week is the highest for Ecuador since 1992. Authorities said Thursday that ten inmates were among those killed.

At the news conference, Edgardo Rivera, the executive director of the inspector general’s office, said the inmates had taken control of two of the buildings inside Aguaytia prison.

Inmates armed with knives, sticks and pipes had taken control of one building before dawn on Wednesday and stabbed 12 guards who rushed to the scene, he said.

“The attack lasted for an hour and a half,” he said.

Officials said it would take time to identify the bodies, many of which have been taken to hospitals or remain inside the prison.

The prisoners were members of the 13th, 14th and 15th units of the prison, the Ecuadorian news agency Argos said.

According to documents given to Reuters by Amnesty International, the Aguaytia prison is filled with gangs that have been fighting each other and for control of the prison for more than a decade.

Juan Carlos Cantolares, Ecuador’s executive director of the inspector general, said that investigators were awaiting reports from the forensic crime unit on the number of bodies that had been turned over to authorities.

In 2009, the Aguaytia prison was the subject of intense international scrutiny after the Human Rights Watch accused Ecuador of inhuman conditions in the facility.

Inmates at Aguaytia told human rights groups that guards beat them to force them to hand over drugs.

In a report released in 2010, Human Rights Watch said El Rodeo prison, also in the north of Ecuador, was hosting hundreds of inmates having been overcrowded and underfunded.

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