By Paola Totaro
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Four high profile Honduran rights activists fighting to protect their ancestral lands in the southwest of the country have received death threats, including a home visit by a man wielding a machete, a monitoring group said on Friday.
The four include Ana Mirian Romero who won a prestigious award this year for her work battling a proposed hydroelectric dam which she said would destroy the environment near her village in the La Paz region.
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Last year the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) raised concerns about the activists' safety with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and called on the government to offer security measures.
Erin Kilbride spokeswoman for Front Line Defenders, which monitors rights activists at risk, said mother-of-five Romero and her family had been threatened because of their opposition to the dam.
"She is one of many human rights defenders in La Paz who have refused to stay silent about the destruction of their ancestral land despite violent attacks and threats on their children's lives," she said.
"The Honduran authorities need to take immediate action to protect them."
The Honduran Ministry of Energy, Natural Resources, Environment and Mines did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The reported threats come days after a public call by a group of U.S. lawmakers for a suspension of military assistance to Honduras, citing mounting human rights concerns including the murder of award-winning land rights activist Berta Caceres in March.
The IACHR had also called for security measures to protect Caceres but this was not followed up by the authorities.
More than 50 Democratic Party politicians signed a letter on Dec. 8 to the U.S. State Department urging authorities to withhold more than $18 million in security aid to Honduras.
They said U.S. military assistance to Honduran security forces had fueled impunity and human rights abuses, including the targeted killing of land activists, in the Central American country of 8 million.
Honduras has the highest murder rate for environmental activists in the world, according to advocacy group Global Witness.
Romero and her group have formally reported several acts of violence against members of local indigenous councils in recent months. They say these have been made by both armed civilians and men they allege to be security agents working for state authorities.
Romero, who won the 2016 Front Line Defenders award, says she and her family have endured armed raids on their home, physical assaults and death threats. In January the family home was burned down and the children forced to leave school because of harassment, Front Line Defenders said.
"I live every day with the fear of raids on my home where my children sleep," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in July.
Caceres, 43, was shot dead at her home in La Esperanza, 112 miles (180 km) west of the capital, Tegucigalpa, in March.
She had been leading opposition to the $50 million Agua Zarca dam project on the Gualcarque river that threatened to displace hundreds of indigenous people.
Six suspects, including an employee of the hydroelectric dam company and current and former Honduran military personnel have been arrested in connection with the killing.
Worldwide, at least 185 people were killed defending their land and rivers against industries they fear would damage the environment, according to Global Witness.
(Reporting by Paola Totaro, Editing by Emma Batha; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)