Highway Police Ambushed in Ayacucho, Three Dead

Three police were killed and one wounded Sunday in an ambush by narcoterrorists on the road just outside the city of Huanta, in the department of Ayacucho. The highway patrol had left Huanta at 2:15 am to cover the four-hour route to Luricocha. It was attacked 15 minutes later by about 30 men armed with machine guns and rifles, according to police reports to Inforegión.

The minister of Interior, Remigio Hernani, said the attack would appear to be in revenge against the continuing police raids in the area to combat illegal coca and cocaine production.

“This is of great concern, and we know they are possibly narcoterrorist delinquents. Luricocha is a transit zone for drug carriers,” Hernani told RPP Radio. Much of the illegal drug is back-packed out of the region by individuals using different means of transport.

A year ago, in December, two highway patrol police were killed in a similar attack. In September this year, military and police were accused of abuses and disappearances in the area in their anti-narcotics operations.

Congressman Edgar Nuñez, APRA, who is president of the National Defense and Internal Order Commission, said police and military operations in the area should not be improvised and required a more frequent rotation of better equipped and more experienced personnel. The officer leading the highway patrol was on his first day of duty after returning from vacation.

Nuñez said the army’s success in large parts of the Vizcatan area of Ayacucho in ousting narcoterrorists has displaced these groups to other areas. “This means that the military and police actions should be carried out with greater care, with better equipment, and a simple truck with four police on the road at 2 am means something is not being done right.”

According to Jaime Antezana, a sociologist and expert in illegal coca and cocaine production, these attacks indicate that the anti-narcotics program is not achieving its objectives.

Antezana said that the Luricocha area is controlled “by an organization of 350 narco-Sendero rebels” who control all the drug production that leaves the Apurimac Valley, within the area the government has designated as VRAE, the Apurimac and Ene River Valleys (VRAE) . The government’s VRAE development program -which covers highlands and cloud forest in an area that straddles the four departments of Ayacucho, Huancavelica, Cusco and Junin- is a multi-pronged plan to complement interdiction with development in education, rural health, communications and coca crop substitution as well as markets for new products.

“This is proof that the operation Excellence that began in August to recover the area and also hit hard against subversion has not achieved its objectives,” Antezana said. With the attack on Sunday, the narcoterrorist organization has shown it is capable of operating in a broader area of the Apurimac valley, he said.

“If military actions are not carried out within an integrated strategy of fighting drug traffic at the same time as applying a development plan,” in the area, Antezana said, “it is not about a resurgence of terrorism but about an advance of narco-Sendero.”

“This is no longer the Sendero Luminoso of the 1980s. This is a small group from Sendero but who are now involved in drug traffic. In 1999, there were between 60 and 120 men, today they are 350, and armed,” he added.

Ruben Vargas, a security and drug traffic expert who contributes to Inforegion, believes it is a grave mistake to use highway police in emergency areas where there is terrorism and drug traffic, and that they should be replaced with specialized and highly trained anti-narcotics police instead.

“Highway police are not prepared to face organized crime. We are talking about enemies who are perfectly organized, with a lot of logistics and fire power that they obtain from drug traffic.”

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