11 dead as Hondurans clash over land

TEGUCIGALPA — Violent clashes over farmland in Honduras have left 11 people dead, authorities said, as tensions mounted between peasants and landowners in the Central American nation.

Five traders were shot dead Monday as they drove along a road in the troubled northeast Aguan region, and deputy police chief Roberto Benitez said the victims may have been killed by people who mistook them for rivals in a conflict which has left some 50 people dead in recent months.

It was not clear whether the gunmen were peasants, or guards of landowners, he told reporters.

The two groups have been locked in a land dispute for several years, and on Sunday a violent clash left four security guards and two peasants dead and 14 injured.

About 200 peasants, some heavily armed, tried to take over the Paso Aguan ranch, and police said two peasants and four guards were killed in the incident.

Peasant organizations have occupied seven palm plantations in the Aguan Valley in Colon state, which has some of the most productive land in Honduras. While President Porfirio Lobo’s government has agreed to provide interest-free loans for peasants to buy land, the parties involved been unable to settle on purchase prices.

Lobo sent a task force of some 600 police and soldiers to the area late Monday in an effort to restore order.
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