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US Lawmakers, Citing Activist's Death, Want Aid to Honduras Held


FILE - A woman places flowers on an altar set up in honor of Berta Caceres during a demonstration outside Honduras' embassy in Mexico City, June 15, 2016.

A group of U.S. lawmakers is making a year-end push to suspend millions of dollars in military assistance to Honduras, citing mounting human rights concerns, including the slaying of high-profile land rights activist Berta Caceres.

More than 50 Democratic Party politicians have signed a letter to the U.S. State Department urging authorities to withhold more than $18 million in security aid to Honduras before Congress adjourns for the holidays and ahead of President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration on January 20.

U.S. military assistance to Honduran security forces has fueled impunity and human rights abuses in the Central American country of 8 million, lawmakers said. They said U.S. military aid should not be going to security forces who have been accused of serious human rights abuses, including targeted killings of land activists.

"We request that the U.S. government immediately suspend all police and military aid to Honduras until these mounting human rights concerns are addressed," they said in the letter dated December 8.

Honduran officials and the U.S. State Department were not immediately available for comment on the proposed suspension of aid contained in a bill known as the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, which was introduced in Congress in June.

October killings

Land rights activists are still being targeted for assassination in Honduras, with two killings in October in the northeastern Aguan Valley alone, an area where more than 150 land campaigners have been killed since 2009, the letter said.

Caceres, 43, was shot dead in March at her home in La Esperanza, Honduras, 112 miles (180 kilometers) west of the capital, Tegucigalpa.

The award-winning campaigner had been leading opposition to the $50 million Agua Zarca dam project that threatened to displace hundreds of indigenous people.

Six suspects, including an employee of the hydroelectric dam company and current and former Honduran military personnel, have been arrested in connection with the killing.

U.S. lawmakers accused Honduran authorities of bungling the investigation into Caceres' killing, after court files related to the case were stolen in September.

The Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, has pledged to see justice served in the Caceres case and to tackle rights abuses in one of the world's most violent countries.

"We are working so that the promotion and protection of human rights is part of the culture of the Honduran people," Hernandez wrote on Twitter earlier this month.

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