Brazil prison rioters holding 207 hostages


Inmates at a prison in Brazil's remote Amazon jungle today refused to release their 207 hostages even though authorities were prepared to meet their principal demand by returning their escaped leader from another prison.

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, 1,500 miles north-west of Sao Paulo.

The 190 women and 17 men being held are relatives of the inmates.

Authorities agreed to return prison gang leader - Edinildo Paula de Souza, who had been transferred to another facility last week after his capture - but insisted that the hostages be released first. The inmates refused, saying that Paula de Souza must be returned before the hostages are released.

Negotiations are to resume today.

Most of the approximately 1,000 inmates at Urso Branco are taking part in the rebellion. The prison was built to hold 350 inmates.

The Urso Branco prison was the site of a bloody 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, most of them women.

Paula de Souza escaped from Urso Branco on November 24th through a tunnel he had dug in the prison's vegetable garden. He was recaptured December 21st and sent the next day to the Nova Mamore prison around 250 miles from Urso Branco.

The 27-year-old convict is considered a highly dangerous criminal and is serving a 30-year sentence for murder and armed robbery. Local media have reported that he orchestrated the 2004 riot at Urso Branco.