QUITO (Reuters) – At least 12 prisoners have died and 10 others have been injured in a clash between gangs at a prison in Ecuador, the government said on Sunday, in a new episode of prison violence in the Andean country.

Violence in Ecuadorian prisons, which the government says is linked to gang disputes over drug trafficking, killed 316 people last year.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says the system is marred by the neglect of the state and the absence of a comprehensive policy, as well as the poor conditions of prisoners.

The confrontation at El Turi prison in the city of Cuenca took place early on Sunday, Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo told reporters.

Prisoners were trying to take control inside the prison, he said.

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“So far 12 casualties have been counted on the exterior part and in the interior parts, work is still ongoing and an assessment is underway,” Carrillo said.

“There is an organization that wants absolute power inside the prison and there are cells that have rebelled against it,” he said.

The government is taking steps to regain control of the prison, Carrillo added. Some 800 police and military are present there, the government said on Sunday.

About 90 inmates were evacuated after the incident, 10 of whom were injured, prison system chief Pablo Ramirez said.

There were no reports of escaped detainees, the government said.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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