US Forensics Team To Help Probe Honduras Fire

Published February 17, 2012 7:18AM (EST)

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Countries are reaching out to Honduras after its deadly prison fire, sending medical aid and forensic doctors, with the United States dispatching an investigative team to help find the cause of the blaze.

Mexico and Chile are sending forensic experts to help identify the 355 dead, many of whom were burned beyond recognition in the inferno at the Comayagua prison north of Honduras' capital. France and Spain are offering medical aid for survivors of the deadliest prison fire in a century.

The fire that began late Tuesday night exposed a dysfunctional and underfunded prison system with overcrowded facilities, and insufficient staff. Honduran President Porfirio Lobo issued a plea for international assistance in carrying out a thorough investigation "to determine beyond any doubt what led to this tragedy and determine responsibility."

The U.S. State Department said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators arrived Thursday in Honduras. The team includes forensic chemists, explosives enforcement officers and dogs that can sniff out explosives and accelerants.

"The purpose of the mission is to establish how the fire started," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

Five forensic doctors who work for the Mexican Attorney General's Office arrived Thursday to help identify the dead, that country's Foreign Relations Department said in a statement.

The department said Mexico also sent medical supplies and medicine to treat burn victims after Lobo requested the aid in a telephone conversation with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Chile announced plans to send a team of 14 experts to also help identify the dead. The team helped in the aftermath of a fire that killed 81 in a Chilean prison and was set during fighting between rival gangs in 2010.

France and Spain have sent medical supplies to help treat survivors, and Spain offered to send a police team to help with the investigation.

Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, said he has asked the president of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to send a delegation to Honduras to investigate the fire. He expressed "deep shock at the dramatic events."

Israel's ambassador to Honduras, Eliau Lopes, said he planned to meet with Lobo on Friday to present a proposal by an Israeli company to build four modern, safe, high-security prisons.

Lopes said the cost of the project is high but "it can be achieved with international aid."

"We are talking about facilities where no one will escape, where there won't be fires," he said.

By Salon Staff

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