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Gunmen Kill Colleague of Slain Honduran Evironmentalist

  • Associated Press

A woman holds up a poster with a photo of slain environmental leader Berta Caceres, during a protest march in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 16, 2016. Authorities said unidentified gunmen killed Nelson Garcia, a colleague of Caceres, on March 15.

A woman holds up a poster with a photo of slain environmental leader Berta Caceres, during a protest march in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 16, 2016. Authorities said unidentified gunmen killed Nelson Garcia, a colleague of Caceres, on March 15.

Unidentified gunmen killed a colleague of environmentalist leader Berta Caceres, who was slain almost two weeks ago in similar circumstances, Honduran authorities said Wednesday.

Two men shot Nelson Garcia to death Tuesday after he returned home from helping evicted Indians move their belongings. Police had removed the Indians from land they were squatting on not far from Garcia's home in the hamlet of Rio Chiquito, 120 miles (200 kilometers) north of Tegucigalpa.

A police statement called the killing an "isolated'' act of violence unrelated to the slaying of Caceres.

But the organization that both Caceres and Garcia belonged to described Garcia's death as part of "the government's constant harassment'' of Indian groups. Both activists were Lenca Indians and belonged to the Indian Council of People's Organizations of Honduras.

The council said in a statement that "repression, intimidation and threats against colleagues who are fighting to recover lands to plant and preserve nature have worsened in recent days.''

There are about 400,000 Lencas in Honduras and neighboring El Salvador.

Caceres won the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her role in fighting a dam project on a river that the Lencas consider sacred.

The Dutch development bank known as FMO announced Wednesday that it was suspending its operations in Honduras because of the killings. The bank finances about $86 million worth of projects in Honduras.

"Given the current situation, with ongoing violence, FMO decided to suspend all activities in Honduras, effective immediately,'' the bank wrote in a statement. "This means that we will not engage in new projects or commitments and that no disbursements will be made, including the Agua Zarca project,'' which Caceres opposed.

"We have called upon the Honduran government to do anything in their power to stop the ongoing violence and killings in their country,'' the bank's statement said.

The U.S. Embassy in Honduras said in a statement that "on behalf of the people and government of the United States, we condemn the murder of civil society activist Nelson Garcia yesterday. Coming so close to the murder of his colleague Berta Caceres, his death is cause for particular concern.''

"We expect the government of Honduras will fulfill its commitment to lead a thorough and fair investigation and bring anyone connected to his murder to justice,'' the statement added.

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