Suspected Shining Path guerrillas kill 4 police in ambush

Four police officers were killed and four others wounded by suspected Shining Path rebels armed with machine guns Wednesday on the outskirts of Tingo María, in the Huánuco region of Peru’s central jungle, said Minister of Defense Antero Flores-Aráoz.

According to Radio Programas radio, some 40 guerrillas armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades ambushed a four-car police convoy in the coca-producing Huallaga valley at the height of kilometer 23 of the Federico Basadre Highway, as the convoy was leaving Tingo María, on its way toward Pucallpa.

The convoy’s last unit was the first to blow, hit by a grenade. When police aboard the three remaining cars tried to flee and take cover, they were immediately machine-gunned down by the guerrillas.

Four police officers, including two members of the Special Operations Unit, or Diroes, were killed, and four more injured.

According to political analyst Jaime Antezana, the attack was perpetrated as revenge for destruction of coca crops and maceration pits.

“The government will respond to narcoterrorism with greater force, presence and investment in areas where these narcotraffickers are operate with Shining Path remnants,” said Yehude Simon, chief of President Alan García’s Cabinet.

The attack “is deplorable, horrible, because five families are in mourning and narcotraffickers and remnants of the Shining Path are assassinating with impunity… the government will not be weak, and will respond with force,” added Simon, who traveled to the VRAE on Nov. 25 to step up Peru’s fight against narcoterrorism.

Even if these guerrillas and drugs traffickers are hard to control, Simon said, the government is winning the war.

“I have faith that this will end well,” said Simon. “We hear about how many soldiers or police have died, but we don’t hear about how many narcotraffickers (have died). I can frankly say, with the information that I have, that many of them have fallen.”

In April 2007, García stepped up his counter-drug rhetoric, with a call to “bomb and machine-gun down” all coca paste maceration pits and clandestine airports used to transport illegal drugs out of the Peru’s jungle. And recently, the Peruvian government has been cracking down on Shining Path remnants, sending troops to areas where the government has not ventured for years.

The armed forces began a series of actions on Aug. 30 in the valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, or VRAE, a region of high jungle and rain forest that straddles the departments of Ayacucho, Junin and Cuzco.

As the 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.

On Oct. 10, Shining Path guerrillas ambushed a column of military trucks with a bomb and gunfire, killing 13 soldiers and two civilians and wounding 14 other soldiers and three civilians. The rebel attack was the past decade’s deadliest.

Civilians were riding with soldiers in trucks returning to the Cochabamba Grande base in Huancavelica – near the jungle-covered VRAE, where about 30 percent of Peru’s coca leaf is harvested – when they were ambushed near the town of Tintaypunco. Rebels detonated a bomb as the convoy rounded a bend, and then opened fire with automatic weapons. In days prior to the ambush, the army claimed that five rebels were killed in the area, and that 15 others were captured.

On Nov. 16, three police were killed and one wounded in another 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.

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

Days later, two soldiers were wounded when their helicopter came under fire as it was taking off, on its way to the southeastern zone of Vizcatan to rescue an army patrol targeted in an earlier rebel attack that left two troops injured.

According to former Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi, if so many deaths are occurring, it’s because highway police and other agents are not prepared to face organized crime and terrorists.

“Unfortunately, police don’t have the adequate preparation to respond to this type of attack,” Rospigliosi told Radio Programas Thursday. “There aren’t any specially-trained people for jungle-fighting with these terrorists groups… They have some training, but it isn’t sufficient.”

According to Rospigliosi, a specially-trained police battalion should be set up in order to eliminate the Shining Path remnants in Peru’s jungles.

“It’s not about the army intervening,” said Rospigliosi, “we have already seen that in the VRAE, and in the VRAE things are going much worst than in Huallaga (where the latest attack took place). Not a single terrorist has been killed or captured in the past two years although a special unit (has been stationed in the VRAE), which has been declared under the army’s control and in a state of emergency for the past five years.”

Peru’s conflict with the Shining Path guerrillas had been largely dormant since the once 10,000-strong Maoist rebel group crumbled in 1992, after the group’s leader and founder, Abimael Guzman, was arrested.

According to Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 54 percent of all deaths in two decade-long conflict were caused by the Maoist Shining Path insurgency. Peru’s armed forces were blamed for 30 percent, and most of the rest by government-backed peasant militias.

Currently, the only high-profile Shining Path guerrilla leader not imprisoned is known as “Comrade Artemio.” He operates the Proseguir, or “to continue” group’s remaining 200-300 insurgents in Peru’s central jungle region.

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.

According to official data, Radio Programas reported, approximately 60,000 Peruvians families illegally produce coca for drug traffickers.

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