The top Honduran general blamed “guerrillas” on Saturday for an ambush with high-powered weapons that killed a soldier and a policeman in a region wracked by land disputes.
General Rene Osorio said a joint army-police patrol was attacked on Friday in the Aguan region of northern Honduras by people “armed with high-caliber weapons, people who dedicate themselves to the guerrilla lifestyle.”
“The patrol was caught in a crossfire,” Osorio told local HRN radio.
A policeman was killed on the spot and four patrol members were wounded. One of those wounded, a soldier, later died at a hospital in the town of Tocoa.
Aguan, about 600km northeast of Tegucigalpa on the Caribbean coast, is an area where the owners of African oil palm tree plantations have been in a long-running dispute with landless farmers who have occupied parts of the land.
More than 50 people have died in land disputes there over the past two years, 11 of them last month alone.
Honduran authorities claim the landless farmers have been trained as guerrillas by advisers from the leftist governments of Nicaragua and Venezuela. The claims have not been proven despite a heavy military presence.
The Aguan region is also a haven for drug traffickers moving narcotics from coca-producing areas in South America en route to the lucrative US market. Clandestine landing strips for small drug planes have been found in the region.
On Aug. 19, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo sent 600 soldiers and police, known as Task Force Xatruch, to the region to reinforce the 400 sent earlier to the area.
Public safety has been hit hard in Honduras since a June 2009 coup that ousted leftist president Manuel Zelaya.
Lobo was elected president in November of that year in polls organized by the de facto government that followed the coup and amid a political impasse between the interim authorities and Zelaya.