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Government, inmates in talks to end Venezuelan prison standoff

By the CNN Wire Staff
A woman holds a sign reading "Mr President stop this massacre we do not want more dead" outside the Rodeo II prison.
A woman holds a sign reading "Mr President stop this massacre we do not want more dead" outside the Rodeo II prison.
  • There has been a standoff at the Rodeo II prison for nearly a week
  • On Wednesday, the government talked with inmate representatives for the first time
  • The inmates are said to be considering letting troops in

(CNN) -- Venezuelan authorities were awaiting word Thursday morning from inmates who were considering allowing troops to enter the prison and disarm them, the country's justice minister said.

Troops and prisoners have been in a standoff for nearly a week since the government ordered raids at the Rodeo prison complex to regain control and disarm inmates.

The government says that a small group of prisoners at the Rodeo II prison -- about 50 out of 1,000 -- remains hostile to the national guard and are giving resistance to any raid. Authorities already raided the Rodeo I prison, where they seized dozens of weapons, as well as drugs and cell phones.

Justice and Interior Minister Tareck Al Aissami said that the government for the first time on Wednesday was able to speak directly with a group representing the inmates inside Rodeo II.

The inmates were to consider ending the standoff overnight, and informing the government of its decision Thursday.

"We explained the objective of the intervention to them, and we reaffirmed that the government will guarantee everything regarding their fundamental rights, and above all, the lives of each and everyone of the inmates," Al Aissami said, according to the state-run AVN news agency.

He added that inmates were also told that the operation to disarm them was non-negotiable, and would happen one way or another.

About 3,500 troops were surrounding the Rodeo II prison, AVN reported.

The operations at the Rodeo prison complex come a week after a prison riot that left 22 dead. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the riot reportedly revolved around a fight between rival gangs for control of the prison. The inmates allegedly attacked each other with weapons, the commission said.

At least two troops and one inmate were killed in the raid on Rodeo I, the government has said.

Human rights groups are carefully watching the events at the Rodeo complex unfold.

Amnesty International called on the Venezuelan government to ensure that no human rights violations be committed during the operations.

"Yet another explosion of violence in a Venezuelan prison points to the appalling prison conditions that have persisted in the country for many years and the failure of the authorities to adequately address the situation," said Guadalupe Marengo, deputy director of the organization's Americas division.

"The Venezuelan authorities must promptly launch an independent investigation into what went wrong at El Rodeo, establishing responsibility for the high level of weapons in the prison, and ensure that similar incidents are not repeated in the future."