LIMA – The security forces have started waging “a fight without quarter and with no turning back” against the remnants of guerrilla groups operating in southern Peru, Defense Minister Alberto Otarola said Monday.
“And this means that we are not going to pull out of the areas in which we already are. The security forces have gone there to stay forever,” Otarola told the official Andina news agency.
The government has decided to employ a unified police and military command to eliminate the illegal armed groups linked to drug traffickers in the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, or VRAE, region, Otarola said.
“The unified command strategy, which paid dividends in the capture of terrorist leader ‘Artemio’ (in the Upper Huallaga Valley), is the one that has been taken to the VRAE,” the defense minister said.
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 charges.
“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.
The security strategy will be supplemented with an expanded presence by public agencies, social programs and economic development programs in the region, Otarola said.
President Ollanta Humala’s administration “will not allow” the continued presence of “narcoterrorism” in the VRAE, the defense minister said.
A large security forces deployment is underway in the VRAE, where two police officers were reported missing following the operation over the weekend to rescue a group of kidnapped energy company workers.
The kidnappers on Saturday freed 36 gas company contractors they had held hostage for five days in the jungles of southeastern Peru’s Cuzco region.
No ransom was paid for the workers’ release even though the armed group holding them captive had demanded $10 million to free the workers, as well as an annual “war fee” of $1.2 million and explosives, the Defense Ministry said.
The kidnappers released the workers amid clashes with special forces units that left four soldiers dead and 10 others wounded.
The search for the two missing police officers is a “priority,” Otarola said.
The mass abduction took place on April 9 in the 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.
Comrade Artemio commanded the Shining Path’s remnants in the Upper Huallaga Valley, while Victor Quispe Palomino, known as “Comrade Jose,” commands the fighters in the VRAE region.
The rebels have joined forces with drug cartels and producers of illegal coca, the raw material for cocaine, officials say.
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