Peru soldier steps on land mine planted by Shining Path in VRAE

An 18-year old soldier stepped on a land mine in Peru’s remote Apurimac and Ene River Valleys, or VRAE, during a routine patrol of the densely forested San Judas mountain, reported daily El Comercio.

Jhoni Kaynicelima Tabray lost his right foot on Saturday, after stepping on a homemade landmine in VRAE, where the army is currently trying to stamp out the last remnants of Peru’s Shining Path guerrillas, or Sendero Luminoso.

The Shining Path has been largely dormant since 2000. The once 10,000-strong Maoist rebel group nearly brought Peru’s government to its knees during the 1980s with car bombings, assassinations and brazen attacks on police and military outposts. Between 1980 and 1992, Sendero Luminoso insurgents frequently used dynamite to destroy the pylons that fed electricity to Lima and other key cities. Land mines were placed around more than 2,400 pylons, as well as around some electricity substations and three penitentiary centers — Yanamayo prison in Puno, Huacariz in Cajamarca and the Miguel Castro Castro jail in Lima.

Although the group lost momentum following the 1992 capture of its founder Abimael Guzman – who is serving life in a naval prison – sporadic Shining Path attacks still claim lives every year.

In Peru, a signatory of the Ottawa or Mine Ban Treaty, most of the anti-personal land mines yet to be removed are located on the border with Ecuador, placed during the brief 1995 war, and around high tension pylons that carry transmission lines in the main power grid from the Mantaro hydroelectric plant in the central highlands to Lima.

In 2007, an estimated 50,000 land mines still remained along the Cordillera del Condor on the Peru-Ecuador border. These mines are being removed in a joint effort by Peru and Ecuador with the OAS Program for Integral Action against Antipersonnel Mines. More than 100 Peruvian Army deminers were being assigned to the task.

The isolated VRAE is located at the confluent river borders separating the rural departments of Ayacucho, Cusco and Apurímac. The zone is a hotbed for drug traffickers and their hired guns — mostly guerrilla remnants of the Maoist Shining Path insurgency — who regularly carry out deadly roadside ambushes against police and assassinate local officials in retaliation for raids on cocaine processing labs.

Peru was once the world’s leading producer of coca. But the country slashed its production by 70 percent between 1995 and 2001 primarily because of low coca prices, interdiction, forced eradication of coca fields and programs that encourage farmers to grow alternative crops.

But by 2002, the number of hectares used to illegally grow coca in Peru increased as efforts to eradicate the crop in Colombia forced production southward.

This can be explained by the balloon effect, or the drug fields’ tendency to shift elsewhere and sometimes to smaller and harder-to-reach plots in response to local eradication campaigns, and the fact that for farmers, the coca harvest provides more money than any other crop: up to five times as much can be earned for a kilogram of coca than for a kilogram of coffee.

In June 2008, a study conducted by Peru’s National Commission for the Development of Life without Drugs, or Devida, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicated that coca crops had increased by 4.5 percent in 2007 and that approximately 92 percent of Peruvian coca production is destined for the fabrication of cocaine paste and cocaine hydrochloride.

In the VRAE, production of the alkaloid-packed leaf has risen steadily from 14,170 hectares in 2002 to 16,019 hectares last year, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

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