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By Lindablue F. Romero

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (April 26, 2000 - Saipan Tribune)---A group of prisoners set a fire in the Division of Corrections' main facility at around 8:45 p.m. yesterday to protest the temporary suspension of their privileges during the prison lockdown imposed following a jailbreak on Easter Sunday.

Preliminary investigations showed that about four or five inmates started the fire in section A where 20 prisoners were being held, according to Maj. Clyde Norita.

The Department of Public Safety mobilized all the police officers on patrol and the Tactical Response Emergency Team to provide security to the area and prevent the prisoners from escaping while they were being evacuated.

"We have contained the fire and evacuated the prisoners in a secured perimeter. There were no injuries, some men were checked for possible smoke suffocation," said Mr. Norita.

As of 12:00 a.m., the prisoners who were originally housed in detention A were still being moved to the minimum security area as well as sections B and C.

The prison lockdown, spawned by the escape of three convicted felons last Sunday evening, resulted in the suspension of the privileges of the inmates.

"Everytime there is an escape, a prison lockdown is ordered at the facility. It is a standard operating procedure that we follow because we don't want further escapes. All work releases are suspended until we bring in those people who have escaped," said Mr. Norita.

Paramedics were called in to check the inmates. An ambulance was on standby in case some of the prisoners will be brought to the Commonwealth Health Center. The Commonwealth Utilities Corp. checked on the electrical wiring to make sure that the main facility is safe. Power was immediately restored.

"We have controlled the perimeter and the police will stay there to guard the area until the prisoners have been processed and transferred," said DPS spokesperson Rose Ada.

Initial investigation showed that the fire was discovered by the three corrections officers assigned in section A who saw smoke coming out of the cell as a group of angry inmates burned magazines, books and papers inside.

"We will get down to the bottom of this to find out who are the people responsible. We will file the necessary charges as soon as we have completed the investigation," said Mr. Norita.

Extent of the damage to the facility is still being assessed by the Fire Division, although initial investigation showed it is very minimal.

"The Fire Division is still trying to find out how and where the fire started," said Ms. Ada.

For additional reports from The Island Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Island Tribune (Federated States of Micronesia).

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