Honduran President Porfirio Lobo has ordered that soldiers be put in charge of security at the country's main prison after a riot there left at least three gang members dead and 12 people injured.

The aim of the move was to "end the reign of criminals in our prison system, which has done so much damage to our society," Lobo said in a statement on Saturday.

Police spokesman Miguel Martinez said members of the "Barrio 18" gang fought with other prisoners in Honduras' national penitentiary, which houses 3,351 inmates and is located about 15km north of the capital, Tegucigalpa.

We have detected cars with armed men inside passing by the hospital.

Miguel Martinez, police spokesman

Jose Simeon Flores, director of penitentiaries, said three guards were wounded by gunfire.

"The gang members used AK-47s, according to them, to defend themselves from other prisoners. They also exploded a fragmentation grenade,'' Flores said.

A contingent of 70 soldiers and police was sent to guard the Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa, where injured inmates were taken, for fear that their gang would try to free them.

"We have detected cars with armed men inside passing by the hospital and for this reason we are increasing security measures to avoid a tragedy," Martinez said.

The riot and militarisation of the prison comes a day after the release of a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which said that inmates control Honduras' 24 prisons because the state has abandoned its role in rehabilitating people convicted of crimes.

The government says there are 12,263 people incarcerated in Honduras, even though its prisons can only hold 8,120 inmates. Killings, riots and corruption are common.

Source: Agencies