TAIPEI - Six prisoners at a southern Taiwan jail committed suicide on Thursday, ending a standoff after they took several staff hostage to complain about unfair trials and demand their freedom, officials said.
The prisoners shot themselves inside Kaohsiung city prison in the early morning, the justice ministry said, adding that the prison chief and another senior staff who were being held after a hostage swap were unharmed.
"We tried to use all kinds of means to persuade them to release the hostages so the incident could come to a peaceful end and to prevent an unfortunate situation. We regret that six people took their lives," said Wu Hsien-chang, chief of the ministry's corrections agency.
The ministry said negotiations with the six prisoners ran through the night, but did not say what prompted them to kill themselves.
The standoff began Wednesday when the inmates - jailed for a variety of crimes including murder, robbery and drugs - broke into a weapons storage room, obtained four rifles and six handguns, and took three staff hostage.
They later agreed to release them in exchange for the prison chief and a senior staff, the justice ministry said.
Television images showed police armed with rifles and protective gear surrounding the prison. A senior Kaohsiung policeman said more than 250 officers had been mobilised.
Lee Rong-tsung, a former councillor at the Kaohsiung City Council who reportedly knew one of the inmates, said they were unhappy about their "unfair trials" and complained that their jail terms were too long.
The leader of the six was identified by police as Cheng Li-teh, a top member of a notorious triad group known as the Bamboo Union Gang. Sentenced to 28 years for murder, he had been behind bars since August 2012.
Cheng complained that Taiwan's former president Chen Shui-bian - who was sentenced to 20 years for graft - was given parole for medical treatment last month.
"Chen Shui-bian was an inmate too, but why was he paroled and described as a political prisoner?" Cheng said in a statement read out by the justice ministry's Wu.