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350 inmates escape Haitian prison

Former prime minister spirited to safety

From Frantz Ewald

Jean-Bertrand Aristide
Yvon Neptune

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CNN) -- More than 350 detainees escaped from Haiti's largest prison Saturday afternoon, after armed masked men in two vans broke through barricades and attacked the facility, according to police and eyewitness reports.

Most of the prisoners who fled from the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince remained at large late Saturday night, but order had been restored at the prison, police said.

The motive for the attack remains unclear.

Police said at least one guard was killed, and a hospital source told CNN that a total of 15 people had died. That death toll has not been independently confirmed.

As the attack began, prison guards spirited to safety two high-profile prisoners -- former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and former Interior Minister Jocelerme Privet.

U.N. personnel took them into protective custody and later turned them back over to Haitian police, said Damien Onses-Cardona, spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti.

U.N. peacekeepers, who were sent into Haiti last year to quell political violence wracking the Caribbean nation, helped restore order at the prison, Onses-Cardona said.

Neptune served as prime minister under former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

When Aristide was deposed and went into exile last year, Neptune and other former government officials were taken into custody by the interim government for their alleged role in the violence.

At the time of Saturday's escape, about 1,000 people were being held in the prison, which was designed to hold 600.

It is near Haiti's presidential palace.

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