A group of 30 gunmen ambushed a Honduran military convoy, wounding five soldiers, in the northern province of Colon.
The attack occurred in a rural area of Bajo Aguan, Colon. Eleven military personnel from the 15th and 16th Infantry Battalions were going to investigate reports of looting in a nearby village. The reports turned out to be false, and the units were ambushed by around 30 heavily armed gunmen, reports Proceso Digital.
Five of the 11 soldiers were injured in the assault, two seriously.
Colonel David Paz Hernandez, head of Operation Xatruch II which sent 600 soldiers to secure the area in August last year, could not confirm reports of the number of gunmen, but said the attack pointed to the presence of combatants in the area, rather than armed peasants, reports El Heraldo.
InSight Crime Analysis
Colon is the site of some of Honduras’ key drug trafficking routes, while the Bajo Aguan region has a bloody history thanks to a simmering land conflict. The number of vested interests in the region, some of them criminals, mean there are many potential culprits for this recent attack.
One possibility is that the ambush was carried out by local “transportistas;” individuals who move contraband, particularly narcotics, through the country. Two of the more well-known transportistas in the country are Nelson and Javier Rivera, former car thieves and cattle rustlers who moved into the drug trade. The brothers run the Cachiros gang which operates in Colon, running cocaine from the coast to the border with Guatemala for the Mexican Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels, among others.
It is also possible that the attack was linked to the land conflict. Disputes between large palm oil plantation owners and peasant farmers left 37 dead between December 2009 and August 2011. The Honduran Congress tried to diffuse the situation by passing a decree in September to allow peasant farmers to purchase over 4,000 hectares of land. This could make government forces a target for those opposed to such a move, including drug traffickers who are reported to be buying up land in the area, and large companies accused of hiring paramilitaries to counter peasant movements.
Another possible culprit is foreign drug trafficking groups. The ambush is on the surface reminiscent of the kind of frontal attacks on the security forces sometimes launched by Mexican trafficking organizations. Honduran officials said last year that Mexican cartels were expanding into areas like Colon, but their presence does not seem to be very strong, and is not comparable to that of Mexican groups into Guatemala. It seems more likely, then, that a local group was responsible for the attack.