Honduras: 102 street gangs killed in jail

The inmates died in a deadly fire at a prison in the northern city of San Pedro Sula, next to the border with Guatemala. Relatives say it was not accidental.

A deadly fire killed at least 102 inmates at a prison in northern Honduras, all of them members of a well known street gang the government was trying to break up, officials from the Central American nation confirmed on Monday. According to the police, the fire was caused by a short circuit followed by an explosion.

The same sources confirmed that most of the victims died from suffocation and another 27 were taken to the hospital with burns. "We are investigating this very carefully to determine the precise causes," Police Chief Commander told Reuters.

However, the incident has been taken suspiciously by the local population as it is the second time in a little over a year that that dozens of gang members have been killed inside a Honduran prison. Furthermore, some inmates complained that security forces were slow to help Monday and some family members suspected it was no accident.

The Police later confirmed all of the dead were members of the "Mara Salvatrucha," one of two dominant street gangs that operate in this Central American country. The gangs have been the target of a major crackdown in which more than 1,000 suspected gang members have been arrested and sent to jail since last August.

Although there was little specific information about the fire victims, many gang members have been convicted on charges of murder, drug trafficking or robbery. They are often housed together in prisons because of frequent clashes with other groups of inmates. Relatives of the dead people wondered why the fire was only in the area of the gang members, as one of the members who survived said guards at the prison were extremely slow to help the inmates.

"The explosion was above my bed. The fire started at 1:30 (a.m.) and the police arrived to open up the cells at 3:30, although we were shouting 'Help, help!"' Antonio Hernandez said in an interview with local Radio America.

The Mara Salvatrucha gang was founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants and spread from there back to Central America. Its members are identified by indigo tattoos, often on their faces. In April of 2003, 68 people were killed -- most of them gang members -- at another prison in the northern city of La Ceiba.

According to last reports, some 33,000 youths are believed to be members of street gangs in Honduras, but many have gone into hiding or scaled back their activities with the arrests of recent months.

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Author`s name Andrey Mikhailov