TEGUCIGALPA – Some 600 Honduran soldiers and national police began arriving Tuesday in the Caribbean coastal region of Aguan, where in the last three days several people have been killed and a dozen wounded in clashes over land use and ownership.
The forces will remain for an indefinite period to disarm the groups in conflict, Security Minister Oscar Alvarez told reporters in Tegucigalpa.
Police officials in Colon province, the scene of the fighting, said that two palm-oil plantation employees were wounded, apparently attacked by peasant groups at the Camarones ranch.
The incident follows the deaths of five security guards at Paso Aguan ranch, who were ambushed Sunday by a group of armed men.
The ranch is owned by tycoon Miguel Facusse, who on Tuesday annouced as “suspended” an agreement he signed in June with President Porfirio Lobo’s government to sell some 4,000 hectares (nearly 9,000 acres).
The accord called for that land to be assigned to farm laborers belonging to the Unified Peasant Movement of Aguan.
Alvarez recalled that last year the government also sent a contingent of 1,000 police and military to the Aguan region when several people were slain.
Those forces stayed only two months because of the high cost of the operation and because the government reached some partial agreements with the peasants.
Landowners accuse the peasants of occupying their lands and of provoking armed confrontations, which in the last two years have taken some 30 lives from among private guards and farm workers.
The director of the National Agrarian Institute, Cesar Ham, repeated Tuesday that the peasants have no weapons and that the conflicts are brought on by guards on the ranches.
Alvarez said that in the Aguan region a general disarmament will be effected and that he hopes judicial authorities don’t back down when it comes to ordering prison sentences for people who bear arms illegally.
Land ownership has been an almost constant dispute in Honduras, where many farming families demand at least enough land to raise subsistence crops. EFE