A prison watchdog group urged Venezuelan authorities Monday to stop using force to end a deadly 10-day-old armed jail uprising and instead negotiate with inmates.
Humberto Prado, director of the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, said the government should call in a conflict resolution specialist to lead mediation efforts inside the El Rodeo II prison in the city of Guatire, just outside the capital of Caracas.
Prisoners and troops have engaged in sporadic gunbattles since the military launched a weapons search June 17 at the adjacent El Rodeo I prison. The violence has killed one inmate and two soldiers and wounded at least 20 troops, officials say. Inmates claim several fellow prisoners have also suffered injuries and urgently require medical treatment.
Armed inmates have repelled repeated attempts by National Guard troops to retake control of the prison.
Deputy Justice Minister Nestor Reverol told state television that a small group of inmates leading the uprising inside the Rodeo II prison have prevented other prisoners from leaving the lockup.
"Delinquents have kidnapped more than 1,000 inmates," he said.
The Roman Catholic Church's top representative in Venezuela urged inmates on Sunday to end the uprising. "They should put down their weapons," Cardinal Jorge Urosa said.
Venezuela's 30 prisons were built to house 12,500 inmates, but hold about 49,000, according to the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory. Last year, 476 people died and 967 were injured in prison violence, according to figures compiled by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.