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Indigenous Leader Who Defended Amazon Killed in Venezuela, Rights Group Says

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Map of Venezuela

A Venezuelan Indigenous leader who was an opponent of armed groups and illegal mining was shot dead on Thursday in the Amazonas state capital, a non-governmental organization and three people with knowledge of the case said.

Virgilio Trujillo Arana, a 38-year-old Indigenous Uwottuja man, was a defender of the Venezuelan Amazon and had set up community groups to act as guardians of the Autana municipality of Amazonas.

"In life, Trujillo Arana strongly opposed the presence of foreign groups and illegal mining exploitation in the indigenous territories of the Uwottuja people, in the Alto Guayapo area," Indigenous rights organization A.C Kape Kape wrote Friday on Twitter.

The Uwottuja community is made up of about 15,000 people.

Kape Kape's director general Armando Obdola told Reuters that Trujillo had received threats for his activism, and that his case echoed the murders of environmental and social activists in neighboring Colombia.

Communities from the town of Uwottuja announced last February their decision to defend their territory against a "silent invasion" by criminal groups, rejecting illegal mining exploitation as well as the use of their land for illicit activities.

"Virgilio was accompanying the Armed Forces as a territorial guard during operations into areas where there are irregular groups," said Obdola, who added that there are other leaders in hiding who fear for their lives.

The Ministry of Communication and Information and the Prosecutor's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Non-governmental organizations and a United Nations report have denounced the presence of violent criminal groups that control gold mines in the jungle.

Mining has been prohibited since 1989 in Venezuela's southern Amazonas state, which is not part of the so-called Arco Minero, a gold exploitation zone 111,000 square kilometers created by decree in 2016 by the government of President Nicolas Maduro covering.

The Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has asked the government to regularize mining activities and guarantee that they are carried out under international and environmental standards.

The Universidad de Los Andes Working Group on Indigenous Affairs called for an investigation into Trujillo's killing and said Indigenous organizations have so far not received responses from the Inter-America Commission on Human Rights regarding protection measures for other environmental defenders.

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