Killings in second Venezuela jail

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CARACAS (Reuter) - At least 10 people were killed while 40 inmates escaped from one of the country's largest prisons, a day after riots killed 105 people at a jail in western Venezuela. Officials took steps to tighten security at prisons across Venezuela after the second major incident in as many days.

After the rampage on Monday at Sabaneta prison in Maracaibo, 325 miles (520km) west of Caracas, officials said some of the bodies were reduced to 'charred pieces of meat' and at least one prisoner was decapitated. It was the third uprising at Sabaneta in two days, although officials said the first two disturbances were minor. The National Guard eventually put down the riot, during which inmates shot and stabbed each other and two of the prison's three wings went up in flames.

Meanwhile, nine prisoners and a National Guardsman were killed during the jailbreak at Tocoron prison, 75 miles south-west of Caracas. Dora Bracho, director-general of prisons with the Justice Ministry, said security forces had spread out in communities near the prison and nine of the escaped convicts had been recaptured.

The jailbreak occurred while the attention of many prison officials was diverted by the violence at Sabaneta.

Riots are common in Venezuelan prisons, where human rights groups say conditions are deplorable. But officials and inmates said the riot at Sabaneta was one of the worst in Venezuelan history.

'It was horrible. They were killing each other,' one surviving inmate told Venevision television. 'I saved myself by jumping down on to another floor. If not I would be dead.'

Judge Salvador Cubillan, appointed to investigate the violence, said that 105 bodies had been pulled from the wreckage. 'We fear there are more cadavers in the tunnels and water tanks,' he said. 'We have identified 54. It is difficult to identify the rest because they are disfigured. Others are simply charred pieces of meat.'

The riot started when rival gangs, one of them composed of Guajiro Indians, began fighting with makeshift knives and firearms, apparently in an effort to control the jail. The Indians, reportedly seeking vengeance for the murder of one of their members, locked enemies in a prison area and set it on fire, a National Guardsman said.

In six months alone last year, 26 inmates were killed and another 72 injured at Sabaneta. Knives and firearms are regularly seized from inmates.