The Guatemala head of the French humanitarian organization AVSF has been shot dead in an ambush on his van. French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to agricultural engineer Benoit Maria.
The Guatemala head of the French humanitarian organization AVSF, Benoit Maria, was shot dead in an ambush on his van, his organization announced on Tuesday.
An armed group fired on Maria's vehicle while he was driving in a rural part of the country, Guatemalan daily newspaper Prensa Libre reported.
Prosecutors investigating the attack said his van had 11 bullet holes in it.
"He was caught in an ambush and was shot in his car. The Guatemalan police are investigating and will do what's needed," said Frederic Apollin, executive director of Agronomists and Veterinarians Without Borders (AVSF).
The Monday attack took place some 85 kilometers (53 miles) northwest of the capital Guatemala City. According to Apollin, there was no indication that Maria had been killed because of his work with the organization.
"Working on the ground in Guatemala can be complicated, but we cannot talk about a threat," said Apollin. "As far as we know, no one was putting pressure on our association or Benoit, who seems to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time."
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted in praise of 60-year-old Maria's "humanist, fraternal, supportive commitment that honored France," describing the murder as "cowardly."
Guatemalan Vice President Guillermo Castillo said Maria had "dedicated a large part of his life to promoting community development in favor of populations in conditions of vulnerability."
"It's imperative that the corresponding institutions clear up this violent act that was committed against a human rights defender," Castillo said.
The French Embassy in Guatemala expressed its "dismay," and said it was in contact with Guatemalan authorities to "ensure that this crime is solved and that justice can be done quickly."
The embassy said Maria was well-known among its staff and worked to improve life for the most disadvantaged people in the west of the country.
Maria had lived in Guatemala for more than two decades, and was involved with agricultural projects for the indigenous Mayan Ixil communities.
The ambush took place a day after eight people, including six French humanitarian workers, were killed in an attack in Niger.
rc/aw (AFP, dpa, EFE)