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Seven inmates decapitated as 17 die in gang battle at Guatemalan prison

Seventeen prisoners have been killed in a gang brawl inside an overcrowded Guatemalan prison, including seven who were decapitated, officials said.

Victor Mijangos, assistant prosecutor for the Escuintla district, said the fight broke out in the Canada Rehabilitation Farm about 45 miles south of the capital, Guatemala City.

"All were killed by machete and knife wounds," said Mr Mijangos, who entered the prison. Officials found 16 bodies together inside and one more prisoner died of his wounds in hospital.

He said officials found the heads of three men, apparently the leaders of a group, on top of a table.

Prison system spokesman Rudy Esquivel said the prison was designed to hold 600 inmates, but houses 3,092. He said firefighters had removed 16 bodies from the prison and they were still being identified.

Elsa Rodriguez said she identified her son Estuardo Gregorio Rodriguez, 23, from a photograph a funeral home employee showed her. She was among about 100 people waiting outside a morgue for the victims' bodies to be released to their families.

Mr Esquivel said the fight apparently erupted between members of the Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha gangs and fellow inmates who do not belong to the gangs.

About 2,000 police entered the prison to retake control and collect evidence.

Mariela Rodas was inside the prison visiting her son when she said gunfire broke out.

"My son told me to get out fast so nothing would happen to me. I think they already knew," Ms Rodas said. "Then we heard gunshots and we all ran."

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