SAN JOSE (Reuters) - Unknown attackers shot dead a well-known Costa Rican activist who defended land for the Bribri indigenous people in the Central American country, the government said on Tuesday.
Sergio Rojas was at his home in the indigenous territory of Salitre, about 200 km (124 miles) south of the capital, San Jose, when the attack happened late on Monday, the office of President Carlos Alvarado said in a statement, calling the killing “regrettable.”
Costa Rica has 24 indigenous territories inhabited by eight ethnic groups, with occupation and encroachment on their land by ranchers causing conflict since the 1960s.
Rojas had survived at least one previous assassination attempt. In 2015, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the government to provide Bribri and Teribe people with protection, arguing they were at risk because of actions taken to recover their lands.
“He made a lot of enemies over the years,” said Sonia Suárez, a schoolteacher in Salitre.
In a statement, Costa Rica’s ombudsman said Rojas had requested further police protection on Friday after he and other members of his organization said they were shot at in connection with their “recovery” of a farm on Bribri land.
Salitre has experienced land conflicts for generations, with Bribri activists trying to remove non-indigenous farmers from the land in recent years.
Costa Rica’s 1977 Indigenous Law prohibits the sale of indigenous lands, but is not clear on what to do in cases where land within reserves was already farmed by outsiders.
Reporting by Alvaro Murillo; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Peter Cooney