MEXICO CITY (AP) — An indigenous Mayangna leader was the victim of a “heinous murder” by suspected settlers (land invaders) in a community in the North Caribbean region of Nicaragua, environmentalist Amaru Ruiz, president of the environmental NGO Fundación del Rio, denounced Wednesday.

Ruiz told The Associated Press that Salomón Lopez Smith, 52, was found dead last Monday in the Pansunwás area, Matumbak territory, a week after he was reported missing by his nephew Noé Coleman, an indigenous deputy deputy to the Central American Parliament (Parlacen).

“His body showed traces of torture, which indicates that it was a murder committed with viciousness, with hatred, typical of the actions of the settlers,” said the environmentalist. Lopez Smith is the first Mayangna leader executed this year in the Sauni As Territory, where at least 28 indigenous people and community leaders were killed in the last two years, according to Ruiz.

“This crime follows the same pattern as others recorded in previous years: Solomon was kidnapped while working on his plot, was taken in an unknown direction and later murdered in an appalling manner,” he added.

For its part, in a statement, the Mayangna Territorial Government of Sauni Arungka detailed that Lopez Smith’s body showed visible signs of torture, as well as “two shotgun bullet holes in the back”, which “translates into a criminal act with hatred”.

The Territorial Government had declared itself on “alert” last week, following the disappearance of the indigenous leader and in the face of a possible “invasion” of his lands. On that occasion it was said that Lopez Smith had been found alive, a version that was later discarded.

According to Amaru Ruiz, the Mayanga leader was killed by “groups of settlers in the territory”, because “he was a leader with great roots among the population, who defended communal lands and promoted sport in the community.”

So far the authorities have not reported on the event. Ruiz recalled that in other cases the National Police have attributed these murders to alleged “personal quarrels” among the community, a motive that the environmental leader dismisses.

“The deaths from quarrels do not match what the community says or the pattern of viciousness in the actions of land invaders, who rape women and girls, maim and kill community leaders in order to appropriate the natural resources of their territories,” Ruiz said.

Data from the River Foundation indicate that 60 per cent of the Mayangna territories are invaded by some 5,000 settlers who began to enter the area since 2015 and have caused the displacement of at least 3,000 indigenous people from their communities.

According to the NGO Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), the invasion of indigenous territories could lead to the disappearance by “extermination” of more than 300 indigenous communities located in the north-Caribbean region of Nicaragua.