Armed men kill six indigenous Nicaraguans, kidnap 10 in nature reserve raid

MANAGUA (Reuters) - About 80 armed men killed six indigenous people on an isolated Nicaraguan nature reserve in an attack linked to raging land disputes, the indigenous Mayagna community said on Thursday, with 10 other Mayagnas kidnapped in the raid.

The men stormed a Mayagna commune about 500 kilometers (310 miles) north of capital Managua, deep in the north-central Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, the second-largest rainforest the Americas after the Amazon.

The raiders were part of a group of “settlers” in the area who do not belong to the indigenous communities that make up about 14% of Nicaragua’s 6.2 million people, according to a Mayagna lawyer from the region.

“They wanted to subjugate the men and shot to death six people,” Mayagna lawyer Larry Salomon told Reuters by phone, saying the attack occurred in the Alal de Sauni As community.

The government did not respond to a request for comment.

The police, in a government-controlled media outlet, published a statement saying only two people were killed in the attack. Salomon disputed the police version of events.

Animosity has been growing over the past decade between Nicaragua’s native people and the “settlers,” who come to indigenous areas in search of cheap, fertile land, as well as timber and gold, according to activists.

“This is a land conflict. They want our lands for cattle farming and to destroy our forests,” Salomon added.

Salomon said a delegation made up of Nicaraguan army, police and the municipal government was on the way to the reserve to investigate the attack.

With only about 30,000 people spread across the country, Mayagna make up about 0.5% of Nicaragua’s population.

The Mayagna have been complaining since 2014 about living under siege from armed groups who are seizing their lands, and last year their leader said his people are facing an existential risk.

“They’re exterminating us little by little and the state is doing nothing,” Gustavo Lino, the highest-ranking Mayagna leader, said last year.

Nicaragua had been a world leader in the granting of land rights to native peoples. Indigenous communities gained autonomy in 1987 over their ancestral lands and a law was introduced in 2003 to allow indigenous people to apply for land titles.

But indigenous communities have more recently criticized the government for not doing enough to protect them and their way of life.

The Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, renowned for its biodiversity, is a treasure-trove of rare and endangered species. It hosts one of the world’s last populations of Baird’s Tapir and Central American Spider Monkey, according to the United Nations.

Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Marguerita Choy