Honduras moves 773 gang members to complete prison shake-up

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - The Honduran government said on Tuesday it had moved 773 gang members to a maximum security prison, completing the relocation of some 2,000 highly dangerous inmates in a bid to prevent penitentiaries serving as command centers for criminal activity.

Under heavy military guard, hundreds of members of the powerful Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs were transferred from the crowded Marco Aurelio Soto prison to a high security facility east of Tegucigalpa known as “El Pozo II.”

“Today we can state that the 2,000 most dangerous inmates in the country are completely isolated,” Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez told a news conference.

Honduras, one of the most violent countries in the Americas, began the reorganization of its prisons in March in an attempt to break the power of gangs that authorities say can orchestrate murders, extortion and drug trafficking from the prisons.

The final transfer of prisoners occurred after 18 members of Barrio 18 escaped from Marco Aurelio Soto last week. Local media reports said the gang members broke out after paying off guards.

Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Editing by Michael Perry