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Nicaragua arrests 24 after attack in conflict over indigenous land


MEXICO CITY — Nicaraguan authorities on Friday arrested 24 settlers after they allegedly attacked an indigenous community as part of a land dispute.

It was the first large-scale arrest of non-Indigenous settlers after years of invasions and attacks on the territory of the Miskito, Mayangna and other Indigenous groups.

Nicaragua’s National Police said the 22 men and two women were detained in the Caribbean coastal area the previous day. Police said indigenous residents told them the attackers were armed with sticks, stones and machetes.

Nicaraguan authorities have been slow to investigate such attacks, and activists said on Friday that the settlers had actually been detained by residents, who had turned them over to police.

“They didn’t detain the settlers. It was the locals themselves who caught them,” says María Luisa Acosta, a lawyer who heads the Center for Legal Aid for Indigenous Peoples.

The arrested settlers were taken to a prison near the capital Managua and would face charges of organized crime, land seizure and environmental crimes, officials said.

But activists doubted the government would actually follow up on the matter, after years of allowing indigenous communities to be targeted.

“This is the first time the government has announced the detention of those who invade indigenous territory,” said environmental activist Amaru Ruiz, director of the Del Río Foundation.

He added that “we have to be extremely careful” regarding the arrests. “They have detained these types of people before and released them later,” said Ruíz.

The Mayangna and Miskito communities have been hit by a number of attacks in recent years attributed to settlers invading indigenous lands. Ruíz has said at least 28 indigenous leaders and community members have been killed in recent years.

Several attacks in 2021 and 2022 killed Miskito and Mayangna people near Bosawas, a protected area. The reserve has been affected by illegal mining and logging.

Indigenous activists say President Daniel Ortega’s administration has not done enough to address the jungle’s problems, something his administration denies.

Activists say many of the settlers moving to the country are former soldiers with ties to timber and illegal logging.

The Del Río Foundation says about 60% of the Mayangna’s territory has been invaded since 2015 by about 5,000 settlers, displacing about 3,000 native residents.

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