SAO PAULO, Brazil – Inmates at a prison in Brazil's remote Amazon jungle were holding more than 200 people hostage, demanding the return of their leader from another prison. Authorities agreed to bring him back, but both sides remained at an impasse Tuesday, waiting for the other to make the first move.
Armed with makeshift knives, the inmates began their uprising during Sunday's visiting hours at the Urso Branco State Prison in Rondonia's state capital, Porto Velho, some 1,500 miles northwest of Sao Paulo.
The same prison was the site of a five-day uprising in April 2004 that left 14 inmates dead, many of them hacked to death and tossed from the prison's roof. Prisoners held hostage about 170 relatives then.
This time, the inmates said they would release the hostages after one of their leaders — Edinildo Paula de Souza, who had been transferred to another facility last week — was returned to Urso Branco.
"We agreed to return Edinildo as soon as the hostages were released and after a complete search for weapons and drugs," Renato Eduardo de Souza, head of the state's public safety department, said by telephone on Tuesday. "But they refused, demanding that Edinildo be returned first."
Another inmate demand that prison officials said would not be met was the dismissal of the prosecutor who ordered Paula de Souza's transfer.
Paula de Souza, 27, is serving a 30-year sentence for murder and armed robbery. Local media have reported that de Souza, no relation to the public safety official, orchestrated the 2004 riot. He escaped Urso Branco on Nov.24 through a tunnel he had dug in the prison's vegetable garden. He was recaptured Dec. 21 and sent the next day to the Nova Mamore prison some 186 miles away.
De Souza, the public safety official, said 190 women and 17 men — all inmates' relatives — are being held. There was no confirmation of the inmates' claim that they have killed at least 10 other prisoners during the rebellion, he said.
In past prison riots, relatives have refused to leave, believing their presence would protect the inmates from police.
The public safety official said most of approximately 1,000 inmates at Urso Branco were taking part in the rebellion. The prison was built to hold 350 inmates.
Referring to TV footage showing a group of inmates holding what they said was the body of a dead prisoner upside down from one of the prison's water towers, he said "it was ploy to intimidate us because as they pulled him back up he moved. He was clearly alive."