LIMA – Kidnappers on Saturday freed dozens of gas company contractors they had held hostage for five days in the jungles of southeastern Peru’s Cuzco region, the government said on Facebook.
“Peru’s presidency can report that the release of the 36 hostages occurred because the terrorists pressured by the siege fled and abandoned them,” the government said.
Minutes later, the Defense Ministry released a statement saying that no ransom was paid for the workers’ release.
The captors had demanded $10 million to free the workers, as well as an annual “war fee” of $1.2 million and explosives.
A source with Peru’s Interior Ministry said on Wednesday that the captors had given “notes with their demands ... to a doctor and a nurse who could not advance through the jungle.”
On Thursday, that same ministry officially reported that a police officer was killed and three other people were wounded when unknown attackers fired on a helicopter searching for the energy workers.
Killed in the attack was Capt. Nancy Flores, the co-pilot of the helicopter, while gunner Luis Guerrero and a civilian acting as a guide, Elver Huaman, were wounded, according to media accounts.
The chopper was attacked in the Alto Kepashiato zone as it was taking off after dropping off some police in the town of Kiteni, the top elected official in La Convencion province, Fedia Castro, told RPP radio.
She said the shots came from a nearby mountain, most likely from members of the group that kidnapped the workers.
Saturday’s Facebook post was first time the federal government had officially indicated the number of hostages. The Interior Ministry source had said there were 43 hostages after the two medical workers were freed.
Local media reported that the hostages were released at 4:00 a.m. Saturday and had to walk for seven hours through dense jungle to reach the town of Chuanquiri and then rode in two buses to Kiteni.
The mass abduction took place Monday in the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, or VRAE, region, where both drug traffickers and remnants of the Shining Path guerrilla group operate.
All the freed hostages are employees of Coga and Skanska, which are contractors on the massive Camisea natural gas project.
The government declared a state of emergency Wednesday in La Convencion province and deployed 1,500 soldiers in the area to “isolate” the kidnappers, officials said.
“As soon as the incident occurred, a unified armed forces and National Police command was established” to go after the “narco-terrorists” who kidnapped the gas company contractors, the Defense Ministry said then in a statement.
The command “has taken action in this case since Monday, with the discretion and reserve required in a matter of such a delicate nature,” the ministry said.
Victor Quispe Palomino, known as “Comrade Jose,” commands the Shining Path fighters in the VRAE region, where, according to officials, the rebels have joined forces with drug cartels and producers of illegal coca, the raw material for cocaine.
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.
Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman was captured with his top lieutenants on Sept. 12, 1992, an event that marked the “defeat” of the insurgency.