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Inmates transport bodies after a prison riot in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte state, Brazil, January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Josemar Goncalves

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By Pedro Fonseca

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - A new uprising has broken out at a prison in northeastern Brazil where 26 inmates were killed by a rival gang faction over the weekend, authorities said Monday.

"A SWAT team is there at this exact moment. Our men are entering the prison now to get control of the situation," said Eduardo Franco, head of communications for police in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, where the prison is located.

It was not immediately clear what sparked the latest uprising at the Alcaçuz prison, located about 25 km (15.5 miles) south of the state capital Natal.

It was in the same prison that members of Brazil's most powerful drug gang, the First Capital Command (PCC), slaughtered 26 other inmates in a riot that began late Saturday and was not controlled until Sunday.

As in a series of other prison uprisings in recent weeks, many of those killed had their heads cut off and were badly mutilated or burned.

At least 140 inmates have died in Brazil's prisons in just over two weeks.

The intense violence is the result of a split between the PCC and Brazil's second-most powerful gang, the Red Command.

For more than two decades the two gangs maintained an uneasy working relationship, ensuring that a steady flow of drugs and arms easily made its way over Brazil's porous borders with the world's biggest cocaine-producing nations.

But about six months ago, security officials and experts say, the PCC moved to fully take over trafficking routes and tried to push the Red Command aside.

The Red Command responded by forming alliances with smaller regional gangs, primarily in Brazil's Amazon region and in the northeast, in an attempt to block the PCC from taking over those drug routes and gaining new turf.

A New Year's Day prison massacre at the Anisio Jobim prison complex in Amazonas state in which 56 died ignited the recent violence.

Most of those killed were members of the PCC, butchered by members of the North Family gang, which is allied with the Red Command.

It was Brazil's deadliest prison uprising since a 1992 rebellion at the Carandiru penitentiary in Sao Paulo state that saw police storm the building and kill 111 prisoners.

After the Jan. 1 bloodletting, members of the PCC on Jan. 6 murdered 33 inmates at the Monte Cristo prison in the Amazonian state of Roraima.

Videos taken by inmates showed the slaughter, with those hacking away at bodies saying they were doing so in revenge for their "brothers" killed the week before.

Brazil's prisons, mostly under control of states and not the federal government, have for decades been in a state of chaos, with extreme overcrowding and escapes and violence the norm.

The prisons are also largely run by prison gangs and the state, experts and authorities acknowledge, has little control over the institutions. Drugs, guns and all manner of contraband seemingly enter the jails at will.

Also Monday, a separate prison rebellion lasted for about two hours in a different prison in the same state that saw the violence this weekend.

(Reporting by Pedro Fonseca, additional reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo; Writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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