LIMA – An armed group is holding seven gas company employees captive in a jungle area in Peru after initially taking 30 people hostage, an official told Efe on condition of anonymity Monday.
The armed group, which may be a Shining Path guerrilla unit, released 23 workers in southeastern Peru’s Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, or VRAE, region, the security official said.
The seven hostages work for Coga and Skanska, which are contractors on the Camisea gas project.
Initial reports said 10 workers had been kidnapped by the armed group in Kepashiato, a town in the VRAE region, where both drug traffickers and the remnants of the Shining Path guerrilla group operate.
The chief of the police unit in Quillabamba, Col. Ronald Bayona, told Efe the kidnappers, a group of about 20 or 30 people, fled in three SUVs belonging to Coga.
“Before leaving Kepashiato, these people made subversive speeches. They gathered all the townspeople and told them what their ideology is,” Bayona said.
The closest police units are in Quillabamba, located about eight hours from Kepashiato, and in Pichari, about 12 hours away, Bayona said.
The only police unit mobilized so far, according to information obtained by Efe, is the one in Pichari, while officers in Quillabamba are awaiting the arrival of a helicopter.
The gas company workers were abducted in an area of thick jungle vegetation and poor roads.
Shining Path leader “Comrade Artemio,” who was identified by the government as Florindo Flores Hala, was captured on Feb. 12 in a jungle area in the Upper Huallaga Valley and is being held at the Callao navy base as he awaits trial on terrorism and drug trafficking.
“Comrade Freddy,” who took over the leadership of the Shining Path following Comrade Artemio’s arrest, was captured in the Huanuco region a short time later.
Comrade Artemio, who commanded the Shining Path’s remnants in the Upper Huallaga Valley, admitted in an interview published last December by the IDL-Reporteros Web site that his insurgent group had been defeated by the government and called on officials to begin a dialogue for a peace agreement.
Artemio said in an interview granted to journalists Gustavo Gorriti and Romina Mella on Dec. 1 that the war declared against the state more than 30 years ago had ended in defeat.
“Yes, it is true. We are not going to deny it,” Comrade Artemio said.
The group still has the same “political objectives,” but “in practice that’s not possible today,” the rebel commander said.
Artemio proposed a “military truce” with the government to open the way for negotiations.
“We honestly want to make our position clear that we want a political solution. We want it to end, but through the methods of the negotiating table,” the guerrilla commander said.
The Shining Path operates in the VRAE region under Victor Quispe Palomino, known as “Comrade Jose.”
The rebels have joined forces with drug cartels and producers of illegal coca, the raw material for cocaine, officials say.
The government has made the elimination of the Shining Path’s remnants a priority.
The Maoist-inspired Shining Path launched its uprising on May 17, 1980, with an attack on Chuschi, a small town in Ayacucho province.
A truth commission appointed by former President Alejandro Toledo blamed the Shining Path for most of the nearly 70,000 deaths the panel ascribed to politically motivated violence during the two decades following the group’s 1980 uprising.
The guerrilla group, according to commission estimates, also caused an estimated $25 billion in economic losses.
Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman, known to his fanatic followers as “President Gonzalo,” was captured with his top lieutenants on Sept. 12, 1992, an event that marked the “defeat” of the insurgency.
The guerrilla leader, who was a professor of philosophy at San Cristobal University before initiating his armed struggle in the Andean city of Ayacucho, once predicted that 1 million Peruvians would probably have to die in the ushering-in of the new state envisioned by Shining Path.
The group became notorious for some of its innovations, such as blowing apart with dynamite the bodies of community service workers its members killed, or hanging stray canines from lampposts as warnings to “capitalist dogs.” EFE