At least a dozen dead in mass prisoner escape in

At least a dozen dead in mass prisoner escape in Haiti

At least 10 people died when several thousand inmates escaped from the national prison in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, who were attacked by armed gangs trying to free the prisoners, we learned on Sunday from an NGO and an AFP journalist.

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Haiti, a poor Caribbean country, has been facing a severe political, security and humanitarian crisis since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021. The security forces are overwhelmed by the violence from gangs that have taken control of entire parts of the country, including the capital Port-au-Prince.

“We counted many bodies of prisoners,” Pierre Espérance, executive director of the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH), told AFP on Sunday.

He explained that only around a hundred inmates remained in the prison on Sunday, down from around 3,800 before the attack by armed gangs on Saturday night.

An AFP journalist who visited the site on Sunday morning saw around ten bodies around the prison. Some bodies were hit by bullets or projectiles, he said.

He was able to go to prison where the door was “open” and where there was “almost no one,” he said.

Uprising of armed gangs

Armed gangs have been attacking strategic locations since Thursday, claiming they want to overthrow controversial Prime Minister Ariel Henry. The latter has been in power since 2021 and was due to leave office at the beginning of February.

On the night of Saturday to Sunday, police officers tried to “repel the attack by criminal gangs on the National Prison and the Croix des Bouquets prison,” a statement from the Haitian government said.

“Several prisoners and prison administration staff were injured in this attack on these prison centers,” he added.

The government condemned “the rampage of heavily armed criminals who want to free people in custody at any cost, especially for kidnappings, murders and other serious crimes.”

The National Police “will do everything possible to track down escaping prisoners and arrest those responsible for these crimes as well as their accomplices,” the government assured.

According to Pierre Espérance, it is currently unknown how many inmates managed to escape from the Croix des Bouquets prison. This prison housed around 1,450 inmates before the attack, he said.

Several common-law prisoners, known gang leaders and people accused of the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse have been incarcerated in the National Prison, located just a few hundred meters from the National Palace.

On Friday, Kenya and Haiti signed an agreement to send Kenyan police officers to the Caribbean country as part of a United Nations-backed international mission.

During a visit to Nairobi this week, Ariel Henry discussed “accelerating the deployment” of this force with Kenyan President William Ruto.

The Kenyan parliament confirmed the operation before it was blocked by a court decision in late January.