32 inmates break out of three Mexican prisons

Xalapa, Mexico (ANTARA News/AFP) - Inmates staged near simultaneous jailbreaks from three prisons in the Mexican state of Veracruz early Monday and at least 32 of them escaped, officials said.

Authorities said 14 of the fugitives were later recaptured, but prison officials were conducting reviews to establish who was still at large.

Between 2:30 and 4:00 am, prisoners escaped from prisons in Coatzacoalcos, Amatlan de los Reyes and Cosamaloapan, Gerardo Buganza, the state`s top security official, said.

A spokesman for the state, Miguel Valera, told AFP that initial indications were that the prisoners were armed with knives and had overpowered the guards.

But Buganza said authorities were investigating whether employees of the jails were involved in the jailbreaks. "An investigation of the guards, prison management and external security contract workers will be carried out," he said.

Mexico`s overcrowded prisons, which house 230,000 inmates, are plagued with breakouts, brawls and killings.

The jailbreaks in Veracruz come at a time of rising violence as the Zetas drug cartel shifts its operations to the state from neighboring Tamaulipas.

Last year, prisons in Tamaulipas were the scene of a series of massive break-outs in which more than 350 prisoners escaped, most of them blamed on the Zetas, a gang of former Mexican special forces turned hired killers.

Tamaulipas authorities said in December they believed the Zetas were organizing the escapes to get trained gunmen for their war with rival drug gangs and the Mexican military. (*)