Guyana hunts inmates after riot destroys prison, kills warden

GEORGETOWN (Reuters) - Authorities in Guyana were on the hunt on Monday for a death-row inmate believed to have masterminded a weekend prison riot that destroyed the country’s largest jail and killed a warden.

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The Camp Street Prison was the largest in the tiny Caribbean nation, which sits on the shoulder of South America between Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname.

A fire during the riot destroyed the building, primarily made from wood, which housed 600 inmates.

President David Granger said that while the prison had been destroyed, authorities’ priority was to ensure the safety of the Guyanese people.

“Guyanese can be assured that there are not going to be prisoners roaming about the city or countryside,” Granger told the state broadcaster.

However, five people escaped, including Mark Royden Williams, sentenced to death by hanging in February for his part in the Bartica massacre in 2008 in which 12 were killed, including three police officers.It was carried out in the town of Bartica, on the west bank of the Essequibo River some three hours from the capital Georgetown, by a gang that escaped the same Camp Street Prison in February 2002.

Williams was convicted on seven counts of murder and five counts of manslaughter.

Director of Prisons Gladwin Samuels said Williams had sought his freedom on Sunday and plotted with another inmate to set the building on fire and escape.

A prison warden, Odinga Wickham, died of gunshot wounds, though details of the shooting were unclear.

The fire began around 5 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Sunday, but emergency services were unable to enter to building as many prisoners were armed, said authorities.

It quickly spread and destroyed the prison. Inmates were evacuated to the Lusignan Prison on the outskirts of the city.

Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by Bill Rigby