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World News

Honduran judge orders trial to begin for accused mastermind of activist's murder

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - A Honduran judge on Wednesday ordered the start of the trial of a former executive who has been held in detention for more than two years on charges of ordering the murder of indigenous activist Berta Caceres, her daughter said.

Caceres, a veteran land rights defender who led a battle against a major dam on the ancestral lands of her Lenca tribe, was shot to death at her home in 2016 at age 43.

“We did it!! One step more to try a criminal who was part of the crime against my mom,” Bertha Zuniga wrote on Twitter, posting a photo of the judge’s ruling.

Daniel Castillo, a former executive at Desarrollos Energeticos, or DESA, which pushed for construction of the Agua Zarca dam that Caceres protested against, is accused of organizing the plot and was arrested in March 2018.

Both Castillo and DESA have previously rejected accusations of being responsible for Caceres’ murder.

Seven men have already been convicted and sentenced for playing a role in her killing.

An indigenous rights groups founded by Caceres, COPINH, had accused Castillo’s defense of stalling tactics to prevent the trial from beginning until the end of his two-and-a-half year period for pre-trial detention.

On Wednesday, the group called for proceedings against Castillo to move quickly.

“The judge has all the necessary proof to do so,” it said in a statement.

Honduras is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for activists, with 14 land and environmental defenders killed last year, up from four people in 2018, according to advocacy group Global Witness.

Reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa and Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City; Editing by Kim Coghill

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