Mexican mediator Bishop Samuel Ruiz

Retired Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, known as the champion of the poor and indigenous in southern Mexico, has died at the age of 86.

Bishop Ruiz headed the Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas from 1960 to 2000, and from 1994 to 1998 mediated a commission looking for an end to the conflict between the Mexican government and the indigenous Zapatista National Liberation Army in Chiapas state.

For his work with the state's indigenous population he received death threats. Politicians, prominent journalists and even a group of campesinos (peasant farmers) wielding machetes emblazoned with Bishop Ruiz's name attended his memorial mass in Mexico City.

News of Bishop Ruiz's death made nationwide headlines because he was well-known for his human rights advocacy and mediation work in Chiapas. He most recently participated in a commission serving as a channel between the rebel People's Revolutionary Army and the Interior Ministry over the issue of forced disappearances.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon said Bishop Ruiz's death "constitutes a great loss for Mexico."

"Samuel Ruiz strove to build a more just Mexico - egalitarian, dignified and without discrimination in it - so that indigenous communities have a voice and their rights and freedoms are respected by all," the president said in a statement.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visiting Mexico, said of Ruiz, "He was a tireless mediator that searched for reconciliation and justice through dialogue, and that is exactly the legacy we must honour and the example we all must follow."

FULL OBITUARY Bishop Ruiz, champion of indigenous, dies (National Catholic Reporter)

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