Peru’s government has removed the top commander in the troubled VRAEM region after a military helicopter last month bombed a jungle town that resulted in the death of one person and injuries to four others.
Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano confirmed that General Cesar Diaz was removed as the chief of the Joint Command of Special Operations and the Intelligence Command in the VRAEM.
The incident that led to the removal of Diaz was the October 16 bombing of the town of Mazangaro, in San Martin de Pangoa district. The military attacked the area believing that remnants of the Shining Path rebels were there and planning to attack a military base.
One man was killed and four others injured, according to daily La Republica.
“According to the investigation, they didn’t properly evaluate, from a strategic point of view, the operation,” said Cateriano. “The chief of the VRAEM has been changed.”
Cateriano added that the government will provide compensation for the families of the victims.
“It wasn’t a simple error. It was an unfortunate and painful error,” he said.
The VRAEM – short for the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valley – includes districts in the Ayacucho, Cusco, Junin and Huancavelica regions. The remote and mountainous jungle region is Peru’s top producer of coca leaves, the raw material used to produce cocaine. Peru overtook Colombia last year as the world’s biggest producer of cocaine, according to the United Nations.
The VRAEM is also home to Peru’s last remaining splinter group of the Shining Path rebels, a group that terrorized the nation during the 1980s and 1990s. The remnants have little ideological connection to the original Shining Path. They have been able to continue operating in the region thanks to their connection to the drug trade and the years of government neglect in establishing a state presence in the VRAEM.
President Ollanta Humala’s administration has promised to step up the state’s presence in the VRAEM and root out the remaining Shining Path fighters.