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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Troops Fire on Rioting Prisoners, Killing 5

Troops opened fire on rioting prisoners, killing five inmates, after they set fire to facilities in a "harsh regime" labor camp in the Vladimir region late Wednesday, Interior Ministry officials said Thursday.

According to Yevgeny Ryatsev, press officer at the Russian Interior Ministry, 450 ministry troops interceded 16 hours after about 1, 100 prisoners built barricades against prison guards and started throwing cans and setting fire to desks.

Three inmates were killed immediately when soldiers opened fire at 7 PM. Wednesday after negotiations with the prisoners reached a dead end, and two died shortly afterward, Ryatsev said. Fourteen prisoners and 20 troops were injured in the clash.

He said that negotiators tried to avoid the bloodshed that eventually took place. "They tried lots of talking and discussion", said Ryatsev. "But the negotiators finally reached a dead-end".

The inmates of Correctional Labor Camp Number Four, northeast of Moscow, were demanding better eating facilities and more freedom of movement, according to Ryatsev.

There have been increasingly frequent hunger strikes and riots in recent years over harsh prison conditions in Russia.

The trend reached a peak in late 1991, according to Rachel Dunbar of Helsinki Watch's Moscow office.

Information about prison disturbances under the Soviet regime is scarce, but there were a number of serious rebellions in the Gulag following Stalin's death in 1953. The severity of the clashes in the prison camps forced the authorities to speed up the release of Stalin's political prisoners during the Khrushchev "thaw".

The disturbance at the penal colony in the Vladimir region began at 3: 15 A. M. Wednesday, according to Ryatsev, when prisoners forced a passage between zones of the camp which are usually closed off from each other, and took possession of the area.

The 1, 500 inmates at the penal colony are mostly serving three to five year terms for crimes such as rape, theft, and murder. All but 400 participated in the riot. According to Ryatsev, the prisoners are all in their early 20s and are all first-time offenders.

"The rioters were warned that force would be used if they did not stop", Ryatsev said.

The government forces were armed with tear gas and truncheons as well as guns, he added.

The regional Interior Ministry headquarters in Vladimir, contacted by telephone on Thursday, said that the troops who had sustained wounds were in "stable condition", but that some of the men had been seriously injured in the violence.

Yury Reshetnik of the Interior Ministry Moscow press office said the situation at the penal colony is now "absolutely calm", and the Vladimir branch of the ministry affirmed that "everything is working as normal".

Ryatsev dismissed the prisoner's demands, which included free passage between the camp's zones, as "petty", and said the real reason for the disturbance was linked to the arrival of a new penal colony director three days ago.

"The agitators wanted to show him who was boss", he said. He said that nine chief ringleaders had been identified among the inmates.

Interior Ministry officials declined to specify the exact location of the camp within the Vladimir region. Labor Camp Number Four is classified as a "harsh regime" colony. There are four different kinds of penal colony regimes. "Harsh" is the second-most severe.

Conditions in Russia's penal colonies "are no picnic", according to Dunbar.

Helsinki Watch, a division of Human Rights Watch, issued a report on Russian prison conditions in 1991 which criticized the "inadequacy of food" in penal colonies. Inmates are fed a diet consisting mainly of porridge, soup and bread three times a day. Dunbar said many prisoners rely on packages from relatives to survive.