LIMA, Peru -- Some 150 masked guerrillas attacked a Peruvian prison high in the Andes and freed 255 inmates by dynamiting a prison wall during a bloody five-hour gunbattle Wednesday that left 16 dead and 12 wounded, authorities said.
They said two columns of guerrillas struck just before midnight Tuesday, launching simultaneous attacks on police stations before assaulting the prison in the southeastern city of Ayacucho, 220 miles southeast of Lima.
President Fernando Belaunde Terry immediately declared a state of emergency and a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in the Andean province of Ayacucho and sent the army into the city to restore order after the attack.
Authorities said 255 inmates -- nearly half of the prison's population -- escaped after the guerrillas set off 60 charges of dynamite, toppling a wall of the Ayacucho prison.
The 150 guerrillas, who were said to be masked, opened fire with submachine guns on the prison as the inmates made their escape through the breach in the wall, the officials said. The fugitives included 80 jailed members of a Maoist guerrilla group.
Sixteen people, including two prison guards, were reported killed in five hours of fierce fighting and 12 police were reported wounded, authorities said.
Most of the other dead were inmates shot while trying to escape, including jailed Maoist guerrilla leaders Carlos Alcantara Chavez, Eucario Najarro Juregui y Almicar Urbay Ovalle, police said.
Earlier officials in Ayacucho said at least 22 people were killed during the prison break.
A crack 200-man counter-insurgency team, backed by military helicopters, were dispatched to the mountainous region to track down the band of Maoist 'Sendero Luminoso' guerrillas believed responsible for the attack, authorities in Lima said.
Ayacucho Governor Marciano Cavero said in a telephone interview 20 people who apparently participated in the attack were captured, but it was not immediately known if any of the assailants were killed.
'The terrorists attacked with revolvers and long-range submachine guns,' he said. 'They also exploded at least 60 dynamite charges.'
Cavero also said the jailbreak began 'with simultaneous attacks on the stations of the Civil Guard, the Republican Guard and the Investigative Police' and was followed by the assault on the prison.
Authorities blamed the attack on Sendero Luminoso (Luminous Path), a Maoist guerrilla group believed responsible for scores of terrorist attacks since Belaunde Terry assumed office in July 1980 after 12 years of military rule.
On Sunday, the guerrilla group freed two women jailed on charges of terrorism from a prison in Arequipa, Peru's second largest city 500 miles southeast of Lima. A prison guard was shot to death in that jailbreak.
Justice Minister Enrique Elas Laroza charged that the guerrilla group may have joined forces with Peruvian drug traffickers in a bid to stage jail breaks around the country.
He said the Ayacucho jail housed 504 inmates, most of whom were being held either on charges of terrorism or drug trafficking.