Nicaragua group says 17 govt foes from countryside killed

A Nicaragua human rights organization said Friday it had documented the killings of 17 government opponents from the rural north this year.

Vilma Nuñez, president of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, said at a news conference that witnesses had described killings by police and "paramilitaries" in what she described as a "new repressive phase."

The victims were opponents of President Daniel Ortega and had participated in protests that roiled Nicaragua last year, a report by her group said. There were no arrests in any of the cases and, in many cases, local authorities attributed the murders to personal disputes and declined to investigate, it said.

All victims were from rural areas of northern Nicaragua and were shot to death, the report said. It said photos and videos obtained by the group showed bodies with multiple gunshot wounds to the head and thorax and in some cases faces that were beaten and unrecognizable.

Nuñez said local press reported as many as 30 killings in rural areas this year.

In one case the groupr documented, four members of a well-known opposition family in the province of Jinotega were killed between January and June. Three of those slayings took place across the border in Las Trojes, Honduras, but witnesses blamed pro-government assassins, according to the report.

The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Nicaraguan police and alleged paramilitaries were involved in the repression of street protests sparked last year by changes to the social security system. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that 325 people were killed in those protests, which Ortega characterized as a failed coup attempt.