San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Tensions flare on Nicaragua's Caribbean

Despite assurances from the Nicaraguan Army that human rights are being respected during their search for drug traffickers in villages on the “Mosquito Coast,” indigenous leaders claim the military occupation of the small community of Walpa Sixa has been fraught with abuse.

“The soldiers are all from the Pacific coast. There has been racism, robberies and looting of the indigenous people´s homes,” Congressman Brooklyn Rivera, head of the YATAMA indigenous group, told The Nica Times Wednesday afternoon by phone. “I have been talking with the military and telling them they have to leave the community, but they don´t want to cede. And it´s not clear to me what they really want.”

The military´s occupation of the rural town of Walpa Sixa started Dec. 7 when a Naval Force investigating a small drug plane that crashed in the community was met with armed resistance. A shootout between the Navy forces and Colombian drug traffickers who were being protected by the community left two soldiers dead and several injured.

Subsequent clashes have left at least two suspected drug traffickers dead. Twenty people have been arrested and money and weapons have been confiscated.

Meanwhile, hundreds of villagers have fled into the mountains to escape the military occupation of their town – an isolated community of some 1,200 people.

Miskito leaders consulted by The Nica Times said soldiers have also been killing livestock and chickens, and stealing food donated to the indigenous communities by the World Food Programme.

The military brass denies the allegations. Gen. Omar Halleslevens, head of the Nicaraguan Army, insists his soldiers are respecting the indigenous people´s human rights and property. He insisted the military has not “crossed the line” or mistreated any innocent indigenous residents of Walpa Sixa.

For some, the military incursion into the Miskito territory – the army´s largest anti-drug operation on Caribbean soil – has brought back painful memories of a 1981 Sandinista military operation known as “Navidad Roja” (Red Christmas), during which soldiers forcibly relocated and killed hundreds of Miskitos thought to be collaborating with the contras.

See the Online Feature Story: Tensions Flare on Nicaragua´s Caribbean as Military Sparks Memories of ‘Red Christmas´

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