Six indigenous people have been killed and another 10 kidnapped after scores of armed men raided an isolated Nicaraguan nature reserve in an attack linked to raging land disputes.
About 80 attackers stormed a Mayangna commune about 500km (310 miles) north of capital Managua, deep in the north-central Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, the second-largest rainforest in the Americas after the Amazon.
The raiders were part of a group of non-indigenous “settlers” in the area, according to a Mayangna lawyer from the region.
“They wanted to subjugate the men and shot to death six people,” Mayangna lawyer Larry Salomon told Reuters by phone.
Animosity has been growing over the past decade between Nicaragua’s indigenous communities and settlers who move 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.
The government did not respond to a request for comment.
With only about 30,000 people spread across the country, Mayangna make up about 0.5% of Nicaragua’s population.
The Mayangna 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 Mayangna 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 Bosawás 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 the Central American spider monkey, according to the United Nations.