Armed forces in Ecuador
Security forces regained control of the country's prisons following a week of clashes AFP

Ecuadorian security forces informed they have regained control of the country's prisons on Monday, a week from the eruption of a crisis that saw criminal gangs also take over a television network and a national university.

Local and international media reported that almost 180 officials across at least seven prisons who were being held hostage were rescued by security forces. They moved on to secure the facilities following that operation.

Over 1,100 people have been arrested since President Daniel Noboa declared the country was in a state of "internal armed conflict," a decision that allowed him to deploy armed forces in the country and declare criminal organizations as terrorist groups.

The country's simmering security crisis erupted last week as the government and powerful narco gangs declared all-out war on each other after the prison escape of one Ecuador's main drug lords known as "Fito," who headed the country's main gang "Los Choneros".

Inmates rioted in jails where gangs wield outsize control, taking prison guards and administrative workers hostage, while on the streets a wave of violence has left 19 people dead.

In response, Noboa deployed over 22,000 security forces to the streets, who have frisked and stripped down young men in search of the tattoos identifying them as a member of one of the gangs.

It is in the prisons that much of the gang wars are fought, with brutal clashes between inmates leaving more than 460 dead, many beheaded or burned alive, since February 2021.

On Sunday the army shared videos of prison walls being blown up, and declared "total control" of a prison in the city of Cuenca where 61 employees had been held hostage, according to the mayor.

They also shared images of hundreds of inmates, shirtless and barefoot, lying on the ground during the operation. "The national police are respecting the human rights of these people. We are doing so in a very calm manner," Norman Cano, police chief at the Esmeraldas prison, said on social media.

President Daniel Noboa celebrated the releases in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"Congratulations to the patriotic, professional and courageous work of the armed forces, national police and the SNAI (...) for achieving the release of the prison guards and administrative staff held in the detention centers of Azuay, Canar, Esmeraldas, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, El Oro and Loja," he wrote.

Once a bastion of peace situated between major cocaine producers, Ecuador has been plunged into crisis after years of expansion by the transnational cartels that use its ports to ship the drug to the United States and Europe. 2023 ended as the most violent year in Ecuador's history, with over 7,600 homicides compared to 2019's 1,187.

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