MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Some 80 armed men attacked an indigenous community on Nicaragua's northern Caribbean coast, killing several people, authorities said Thursday. Local leaders said there were six dead, while police said two died.
Gustavo Sebastián Lino, leader of the territorial government of Sauni As, said the attack occurred at dusk Wednesday in Alal, a community of the Mayangna people in the Bosawas biosphere reserve.
The attackers “seized the community, killed six people and burned several houses,” Lino said. Residents also reported the disappearance of at least 10 people, he said.
Lino described the attackers as “settlers” — farmers who have been accused of invading autonomous indigenous territories to illegally log their forests and convert them into pastures and fields.
They were armed with pistols, rifles and shotguns, he said.
“The situation has gotten serious,” he said. He demanded government assistance.
Nicaragua's national police force said in a statement that it was investigating, but put the death toll at two. It said the victims were two men who both died from bullet wounds.
There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy in death tolls.
Amaru Ruiz, director of the environmental Rio Foundation, confirmed the attack. He said there had been other attacks by settlers on Mayangna and Miskito peoples in the Caribbean coastal area and in another biosphere reserve near the Costa Rica border.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned the attack and said the government failed to protect the indigenous peoples and their territory. It noted such attacks had been occurring for years and called on Nicaragua's government to adopt policies “to protect the rights of indigenous peoples to life, integrity and territory.”
According to the Costa Rica-based Center for Justice and International Law, settlers were responsible for killings, kidnappings and assaults on indigenous communities in Nicaragua last year. It has warned that the attacks and encroachment have displaced thousands of people and threaten the continued survival of the people.