LIMA – The death of an 8-year-old girl during a military operation against guerrillas in southern Peru “has to be investigated,” President Ollanta Humala said Friday, denying that his administration tried to cover up the incident.
The probe is necessary “not only for the (child’s) family, but the great family that is all Peruvians,” he told reporters.
The girl died Sunday after being shot in the back during a clash between security forces and remnants of the Shining Path guerrilla group that operate in the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, or VRAE, area.
Authorities in Lima initially said the operation resulted in the rescue of three children being held by the insurgents and in the arrest of two women.
The original report made no mention of the dead child.
The central government later acknowledged that one of the women taken into custody was the mother of the three “rescued” kids and the girl who died, while local officials said all four children were inside their family’s home when the violence erupted.
Humala, a former army colonel, invoked his own experience in the struggle against Shining Path and other armed groups to emphasize that his administration will not repeat the abuses of the past.
“I want to state clearly that our position is different from the conditions of before, where there were operations, many times, that were hidden,” the president said Friday. “We don’t hide anything, we are the first to ask that this be cleared up.”
His government’s strategy is allowing the security forces to carry out “precise interventions, with better intelligence” that lead to the capture of rebel commanders.
Just last week, Humala announced that the No. 4 person in the Shining Path organization in the VRAE was killed in a firefight with the army and police.
Residents in the VRAE tolerate the Shining Path elements out of fear that the guerrillas will seize their land if they don’t cooperate, Humala said.
“There is a policy of fear because there is no presence of the state, which for many years assumed that this population and territory were not important,” he said.
Asked about an opposition demand for a probe of the girl’s death, the president said Congress “has every right to conduct political oversight.”
“We must seek unity to confront terrorism. We will win the battle,” he said.
A truth commission appointed a decade ago by then-President Alejandro Toledo blamed the Shining Path for most of the nearly 70,000 deaths the panel ascribed to politically motivated violence during the 1980-2000 period. EFE