Over 90 prison guards are being held hostage by inmates across five different prisons in Ecuador
CNN — (CNN) — More than 90 prison security agents are currently being held by inmates across five different prisons in Ecuador, according to the country’s penitentiary service SNAI, amid escalating violence in the country which saw the mayor of Ecuador’s sixth largest city killed over the weekend.
Together with the National Police, SNAI said it was working to secure the agents’ release and return prisons to normal operations. It added in a statement that the agents’ were in “good condition.”
Clashes in recent days in Ecuadorian prisons have led to six deaths and five wounded, SNAI added. Inmates at several prisons have begun hunger strikes as they demand better conditions in the cells.
Hundreds of inmates have been killed in recent years in Ecuador as members of competing criminal organizations square off with each other inside the prisons, which are often self-ruled by the criminal organizations.
This comes after the mayor of Manta, Agustin Intriago, was killed in a targeted attack on Sunday, according to a statement from Interior Minister Juan Zapata.
Another person, Ariana Chancay, also died in the attack, according to authorities. Four people were injured, including two alleged participants in the targeted murder, who are now in police custody.
Manta is a key port in the Ecuadorian Pacific coast and one of the largest tuna ports in the world. In recent years, the port has become a notorious hotspot for drug trafficking as Ecuador has struggled to contain the presence of international criminal organizations including Mexican cartels.
Authorities have ordered a full investigation by the National Police.
Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso condemned the attack on Twitter, saying he had “ordered the general commander to activate the necessary resources so that the people responsible for this crime are found and brought to justice. Our thoughts are with the family of the mayor and that of the other victim.”
Intriago was elected for a second term as Manta’s mayor in February.
The attack targeting such a high-profile public officer has shocked the country, which is holding elections next month amid a growing escalation of violence at the hands of criminal organization.
Ecuador, a relatively peaceful nation until a decade ago, has become a key transit point of cocaine trafficking routes from South America towards the United States, Canada, and Asia, in part as a consequence of the peace process in neighboring Colombia since 2016.
In May, as he faced an impeachment vote, Lasso dissolved the opposition-led congress and paved the way for a snap general election on August 20.
The three main candidates running for president, left wing candidate Luisa Gonzalez, right wing candidate Otto Sonnenholzner, and indigenous candidate Yaku Perez, all condemned the attack against Intriago and vowed to tackle the security crisis in the country.