Forensic Team Investigates Ashaninka Grave in Pangoa

A forensic team has begun investigations at a common grave in the mountainous tropical forest of Pangoa, Satipo, where neighbors say eight people were buried in March 1990, killed in a dawn battle between Shining Path rebels and the military.

The grave is on the Batanyacu farm near the village of Fortaleza, and is said to include the body of one of the rebel leaders killed by the self-defense patrols, or rondas campesinas.

According to witnesses, those buried in the grave include two young sisters, aged 14 and 17, and two local men, aged 17 and 30, as well as three settlers who harvested coffee.

The villagers said that Fortaleza was systematically attacked by Shining Path over the next two years. The village lost 29 people, three of whom escaped wounded but later died in other villages.

One of the attacks, in late 1991, targeted Nicanor Surichaqui, who had warned the military of terrorists in the area.  Surichaqui, his wife and children were brutally murdered in revenge.   Months before, Shining Path rebels had returned to kill a leader of the rondas campesinas, Victoriano Espiritu, who had earlier managed to escape with his family and live in hiding.  His son Domingo, 11 years old at the time, remembers the rebels talking in the night, confirming to each other that they had found the father and killed him.

Early in June this year, there were reports of a mass grave of some 800 indigenous Ashaninkas  in the Pangoa area, but this not been confirmed by the Legal Medicine Institute. Only one body was found initially but it is now believed that the grave could contain the bodies of maybe 120 people.

The self-reliant Ashaninka, one of the largest indigenous groups on the continent, were viciously attacked over several years by the Shining Path. Whole villages were burned down, their children and many women kidnapped.

In an article in the Legal Defense Institute’s Ideele magazine in 2004, Carlos Ivan Degregori, a commissioner on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), wrote of the commission’s findings on what the Ashaninka people suffered: “… if the violence had reached the same intensity nationwide that it had among the Ashaninka, some two million Peruvian men and women would have died. ”

According to the CVR, the Shining Path killed some 6000 Ashaninka. A large part of the community in the central and southeastern tropical forest, and also of the Matsiguenga further east, were forced into slavery, forced labor and sexual servitude, particularly in the 1990s.

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