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article imageOfficials announce 'truce' ending Guyana prison riot

By AFP     Mar 4, 2016 in World

A prison riot in Guyana that killed 17 inmates has ended in a tentative truce hours after violence flared anew, officials said.

The riot first began Wednesday when inmates angered by a search and confiscation of cellphones set fires in one part of the prison, located in the capital of Georgetown.

On Thursday, police and prison guards moved in, setting off battles with inmates armed with pieces of wooden bed frames, officials said.

Prisoners began the violence anew Friday morning, setting another fire, breaking out of cells and lobbing teargas canisters back at police and prison officers.

Soon thereafter a delegation of more than 12 shackled and handcuffed inmates were escorted from the jail to participate in closed-door talks with the South American country's minister of state and public security minister.

Following the hour-long discussions, Minister of State Joseph Harmon said that "a gentleman's agreement on both sides" had resulted.

"They have given us a commitment that when they get back into the prison that they will speak with the other prisoners to ensure that there is no further escalation in what is taking place this morning," Harmon said.

"We are going to try to keep our end of the bargain and they are going to keep theirs," he added.

Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan said the prisoners appeared to have "very credible" concerns about the conditions at the overcrowded facility.

Increasing the number of telephone calls they can receive, improving food and ending inhumane treatment are issues that will be addressed, he said.

Ramjattan added that prisoners would be asked to testify before a board about the conditions.

No one was killed when violence erupted again on Friday, but at least four inmates were injured and taken to the hospital.

On Thursday a divisional police commander said 16 people were killed and that bodies were being transferred to a mortuary. That number has since increased to 17.

Several died of smoke inhalation and hospital officials said at least one person died of burns, according to the commander.

The government ordered nearby schools closed during the riot and asked parents to pick up their children.

Armed police and soldiers stood guard Friday around the prison and nearby streets to prevent onlookers and inmates' family members from approaching.

Georgetown Prison has a 700-person capacity but holds just over 1,200 prisoners.

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