Dozens of people have been killed in a fight between rival gangs inside a prison in Ecuador, the public prosecutor’s office said, in the latest instance of deadly prison violence in the South American nation.
Authorities said a fight broke out on Monday between the rival Los Lobos and R7 gangs inside the Bellavista prison in Santo Domingo de los Colorados, about 80km (50 miles) from the capital, Quito.
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“For now there are 43 inmates dead,” the public prosecutor’s office said on Twitter, adding that the situation was “developing”.
Relatives of those held at the prison gathered outside the facility to try to get information about what happened, the AFP news agency reported, while prisoners with facial injuries were taken by truck and ambulance to medical facilities.
Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said the fight broke out in the early hours of Monday morning, setting off “security protocols” to try to contain the situation.
At least 112 prisoners who tried to escape during the riot were recaptured by security forces inside the prison grounds, said Carrillo, while 108 other inmates remained at large.
The incident is the latest bout of deadly violence to break out at an Ecuadorian prison in recent months, after more than 100 inmates were killed and dozens more injured in a riot at a facility in Guayaquil, about 400km (250 miles) from Quito, in September last year.
The Penitenciaria del Litoral riot pushed the government to declare a state of emergency and deploy hundreds of police and military officers to the prison. The country also pledged to pardon as many as 2,000 inmates in a bid to ease over-crowding in the facilities.
An expert on Ecuadorian prisons told Al Jazeera late last year that the violence demonstrates that the authorities have lost control, urging them to provide more prisoner rehabilitation programmes and to dismantle the armed groups operating inside the prisons.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said the system is blighted by state abandonment and the absence of a comprehensive policy, as well as poor conditions for inmates.
The country’s prisons house 35,000 people and are overcrowded at about 15 percent beyond maximum capacity.
Al Jazeera’s Alessandro Rampietti, reporting from the Colombian capital Bogota, said Ecuador’s “government has been really struggling” to address prison violence amid the wave of riots over the past year.
President Guillermo Lasso last month announced a “special plan” to try to bring the situation under control, Rampietti said, “but it’s clear that that hasn’t happened yet.”
The government has blamed the wave of violence on rival drug gangs, infiltrated or controlled by Mexican cartels, that it says are engaged in a battle for control.
Located between Colombia and Peru, the world’s leading cocaine producers, the country is a key transit point for drug shipments to the United States and Europe. Last year, Ecuador seized a record 210 tonnes of drugs, mostly cocaine.
Prior to Monday’s riot, about 350 inmates had been killed in five separate prison riots since February 2021.
Just last month, at least 20 inmates died inside El Turi prison in Cuenca, in the country’s south.