French activist who worked with Guatemala indigenous people shot dead

Indigenous people in Guatemala (file picture)

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Benoît Maria helped indigenous people in Guatemala for more than 20 years

A French human rights worker who helped indigenous people in Guatemala has been shot dead.

Benoît Maria, who headed a farming NGO, was killed while driving though an indigenous area about 160km (100 miles) north-west of Guatemala city on Monday.

It is unclear who killed him or why. His group, Agronomes et Veterinaires Sans Frontieres (AVSF), said it was a “cowardly” attack.

The French embassy urged officials to ensure “justice can be done quickly”.

“It is with great sadness that we confirm the death last night of our colleague Benoit Maria,” AVSF said in a statement.

“He was murdered… while on his way to his workplace in indigenous communities. For more than 20 years (he) had been in charge of… defending the rights of peasants and indigenous communities.”

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Mr Maria was driving a van near the indigenous village of San Antonio Ilotenango when he was attacked.

In a statement, the French embassy in Guatemala said: it was in contact with local authorities to “ensure that this crime is solved”.

“Well-known in the French embassy, Mr Maria worked to improve the lot of the most disadvantaged people in the west of the country,” the statement added.

Indigenous Maya people make up about half of Guatemala’s population, but rights campaigners say they face enduring inequality and discrimination.