At least 20 Guatemalan inmates considered to be extremely dangerous escaped from a high-security prison through a tunnel early Saturday, authorities said.
The escaped convicts included prisoners accused of kidnapping, murder, and rape, Interior Secretary Minister Carlos Vielman said.
The news was the latest embarrassment for the Guatemalan prison system, following deadly riots at other facilities that left 35 people dead.
The escape took place in a prison known as "Little Hell," 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Guatemala City.
The prisoners dug the 120-meter (390-feet) long tunnel, which Vielman said probably took several months to finish. It was unclear how the prisoners hid the dirt taken from the tunnel, which was ventilated with a fan. The tunnel opening outside the prison was hidden in a corn field.
The prison's director and several guards were detained under suspicion they helped in the escape. Francisco de la Pena, the director of Guatemala's prison system, was also fired.
Officials offered a 50,000 quetzal (US$6,500 Ђ5,410) reward for information leading to the capture of the escaped prisoners.
The prisoners left several messages for officials, including one that read: "They gave us only an hour for visits, and that's why I left, because I never could hug my children."
Another complained about 50- to 100-year sentences, while the last said: "My wife left me for another man and I escaped to see if God will give me a chance to take back my family."
In 2001, 78 other prisoners staged a bloody escape from the same prison in which two people were killed, AP reported. V.A.