LIMA – Two police officers and a soldier were killed and two other police were wounded in a clash with the armed group operating in the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, or VRAE, a jungle area in the southeastern Peruvian region of Cuzco, the armed forces said in a statement.
National Police officers Geronimo Chino and John Lucana and army Sgt. Manuel Pisco were killed in an attack on a security patrol searching for two police non-commissioned officers who went missing two weeks ago in Cuzco’s Alto Inkaari zone.
The two police wounded in the attack are out of danger, Friday’s statement said.
Security forces have intensified their operations against the armed group, which three weeks ago kidnapped dozens of gas company contractors and held them for five days in the jungles of the VRAE.
Authorities say the group, led by the Quispe Palomino brothers, is made up of remnants of the notorious Shining Path rebel group and has allied itself with drug traffickers operating in that same region.
However, several members of the group – including leader Martin Quispe Palomino, known as “Gabriel” – who recently made contact with reporters who had traveled to Cuzco to cover the mass abduction disavowed any affinity with the Shining Path, an insurgency blamed for tens of thousands of deaths in the Andean nation.
A man calling himself Rolando told the journalists that he and his comrades were not part of the original Shining Path – which rose up in arms in 1980 and collapsed in 1992 – nor of the Shining Path remnant operating in northern Peru’s Upper Huallaga Valley.
“We don’t do damage to the people. We don’t kill, we don’t rape, we don’t rob or loot,” Rolando said. “From (19)99 forward we have changed our policy, we no longer attack civilians.”
He then led the reporters past trees festooned with helmets, boots and uniforms of government soldiers killed by the rebels to another part of the jungle where they were joined by several other guerrillas, including one later identified as Gabriel.
The abduction of the gas workers, who were released on April 14 amid clashes with special forces units, was meant to “unmask this old system of exploitation and oppression,” Gabriel told the journalists.
He said his group will continue targeting the security forces and “confiscate their weapons to extend fighting capacity.”
No ransom was paid for the gas workers, he said, insisting: “We don’t fight for money,” but to emancipate the Peruvian people from “feudal imperialism.”
The captors had reportedly demanded $10 million to free the workers, as well as an annual “war fee” of $1.2 million and explosives.
Media outlets have reported that Gabriel is the younger brother of Victor and Jorge Quispe Palomino, who authorities say are leaders of the Shining Path faction based in the VRAE.
The reporters’ encounter with Gabriel and his comrades came amid what Defense Minister Alberto Otarola described as “a fight without quarter” against guerrillas in southern Peru.
“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 early last week.
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 was captured with his top lieutenants on Sept. 12, 1992, an event that marked the “defeat” of the insurgency.
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.”