At least 10 dead in violent Honduras land dispute

Other News Materials 5 August 2008 03:53 (UTC +04:00)

Hundreds of Honduran squatters angry over a long-standing land dispute attacked the home of a local police official, killing 10 members of his family, authorities said Monday.

Armed with machetes and guns, the mob swarmed the home of Henry Sorto on Sunday in Silin, a remote outpost near the border with Guatemala, Security Ministry spokesman Hector Ivan Mejia said. They then set the home on fire, burning to death seven people, the AP reported.

Three bodies were also found hacked and shot to death along a nearby road.

Sorto was working in a nearby town at the time of the attack and was unharmed. His 91-year-old father was among the dead, but officials had no details on the other victims.

"This is a massacre carried out by the squatters," Mejia said.

The group surrounded the area and kept police out until Monday afternoon, when investigators finally reached the scene of the crime and confirmed details of the killings.

Leftist lawmaker Rafael Alegria, a farm leader himself, initially said the mob was reacting to a group of armed gunmen who arrived in Silin shooting off their firearms. But police said there was no evidence to support that.

About 400 families have lived in Silin since 2000, when they seized a section of 79 acres of disputed state-owned land where the U.S. once trained troops from El Salvador and Honduras against armed leftists waging civil wars across Central America.

Sorto's home is on that same section of disputed land. As the only police official in the region, he has often clashed with Silin's squatters.

The farming cooperative is named after an American Jesuit priest, the Rev. James Carney Handley, an alleged leftist rebel who was expelled from Honduras and then killed in 1983 during a rebel skirmish with the Honduran army.

Neighboring landowners who want to buy the property have tried to run the peasants off the land.