Forty-nine inmates died and dozens more were injured after a fire broke out during a riot at a prison in Colombia, the country’s top prison official told Colombian radio early Tuesday morning.

The official, Gen. Tito Castellanos, director of the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute, told Radio Nacional de Colombia that inmates in the Tuluá prison, in southwestern Colombia, had set mattresses on fire, producing an uncontrollable blaze in a pavilion that was occupied by about 180 prisoners.

“It is a sad and disastrous event,” General Castellanos told Caracol, another Colombian radio station.

He added that the fire broke out at about 2 a.m. in the prison, which houses more than 1,200 inmates in total. Some guards were also wounded, General Castellanos said, adding that he was not aware of any prisoner escapes.

“We regret the events that occurred in the prison of Tuluá,” Colombia’s president, Iván Duque, wrote on Twitter, adding that he was in contact with General Castellanos. “I have given instructions to carry out investigations to clarify this terrible situation,” Mr. Duque added. “My solidarity to the families of the victims.”

In 2020, more than 20 inmates died at La Modelo prison in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, amid clashes with the institution’s authorities over what prisoners said were insufficient coronavirus precautions.

The president-elect of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, wrote on Twitter that what had happened in Tuluá, “like the massacre in La Modelo, forces a complete rethinking of prison policy in terms of the humanization of the prison and the dignity of the prisoner.”

“The Colombian state has viewed prison as a space for revenge and not for rehabilitation,” he added.

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