Peru’s defense minister denies military involved in new forced disappearances in Apurimac Valley

An accusation that military personnel were involved in mid-September in the disappearance of at least 11 people in the Apurimac-Ene valley in Ayacucho has been denied by the minister of Defense, Antero Flores-Araoz.

Flores-Araoz confirmed that the armed forces led raids on several locations in the area in search of Sendero Luminoso insurgents, but said the military had strict guidelines on their actions.

“Our troops very clearly understand the concept of full respect for human rights. There are very clear orders on that,” the minister told Radio Programas radio. The minister said that those who have been reported missing most probably fled their homes to seek refuge against a possible attack from narcoterrorists.

“Although the VRAE (Apurimac-Ene Valley) is under a state of emergency,” said Flores-Araoz, “people are allowed to freely transit in areas where there are no military operations.”

The initial accusation was filed by Lucy Pichardo, who reported that her husband and five other members of their remote village of Pichis Rio Seco, including her two brothers, had disappeared after the military arrived on Sept. 14 in helicopters and started shooting and throwing explosives. Since then, the lawyer of another villager claims that at least 11 men have disappeared from the area, seven of whom have been identified and another four or five are believed to be illegal loggers.

“What happened was that there was a battle when the police became involved. They began to arrest people right and left, and they even threw tear gas canisters into people’s homes,” said Pichardo’s lawyer, Yubar Alarcon, of the Aprodeh human rights organization.

“José Félix, my client’s husband, fled with his wife and their three children up into the hills. He was worried about the house and returned, and six hours later he had still not gone back up to where his family was,” Alarcon said. Pichardo sought refuge with her children.

Alarcon said criminal charges of extrajudicial killings, murder and forced disappearance have been filed against the troops from the military base of Canayre in Ayacucho.

The armed forces began a series of actions on Aug. 30 in the valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, VRAE, a region of high jungle and rain forest that straddles the departments of Ayacucho, Junin and Cusco. As Peruvian Times reported in June, the isolated jungle valley is a hotbed for drug traffickers and their hired guns — mostly guerrilla remnants of the Maoist Shining Path insurgency. The area produces more than half Peru’s cocaine production.

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