23 inmates escaped from the prison of Moroni, the capital of the Indian Ocean archipelago, in Comoros on Wednesday evening in circumstances that are yet to be known, according to the public prosecutor's office and the penitentiary administration.
According to reports, six were quickly found.
The 17 escapees who remain wanted have all been identified and an investigation has been opened to determine the circumstances of this escape, the public prosecutor, Ali Mohamed Djounaid, told AFP.
"What is certain is that the prisoners were able to escape without outside intervention," he said.
According to the prison services, the inmates would have taken advantage of a transfer from the yard to their dormitories to take the powder but the modus operandi remains to be determined.
The prisoners complained of "too much promiscuity in the dormitories, of the lack of water", which affects the whole archipelago, but also of "the irregularity of the food rations", said to AFP a member of the family of a prisoner, reached by phone.
The Moroni prison was built in the 1960s to accommodate 80 people. It now holds some 340, according to the prison administration.
The prison is dilapidated and regularly faces protests demanding improved prison conditions.
Two years ago, more than 40 inmates escaped from Moroni prison as the entire country celebrated the national soccer team's victory over Kenya.
Among them was Inssa Mohamed, known as Bobocha, who was accused of participating in an attempted assassination attempt against the head of state, Azali Assoumani.
He was found in Madagascar and extradited to Moroni less than two months after his spectacular escape.