SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Troops have been dispatched to the central Andean valleys of Peru in recent weeks to counter renewed guerrilla activity by re-equipped leftist rebels of the Shining Path, according to high level government officials.
“We have deployed 1,500 troops to make sure that a small group of guerrillas don’t move out of a jungle zone,” Peruvian Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo told The Washington Times. He said the insurgents are “trapped” and that highly trained special forces are in the area.
Twenty-three members of the group have been arrested since Shining Path resumed operations at the beginning of the year with a road ambush that killed eight police officers. In a videotape released at the end of last month, a hooded leader using the pseudonym of Comandante Artemio said the group would resume large-scale attacks in three months.
The Maoist movement, responsible for more than 70,000 deaths during a guerrilla struggle in the 1980s, was largely dismantled after the capture of its founder, Abimael Guzman, in 1992. Guzman and other Shining Path leaders are serving life sentences in prison.
Comandante Artemio threatened to renew attacks unless the government granted an amnesty for imprisoned Shining Path members — a demand that was promptly rejected by President Alan Garcia.
“We are rising. We are starting to grow. We are working clandestinely for the future,” Comandante Artemio said from his hide-out in the Alto Huallaga Valley between the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Basin. The video showed a column of about 100 insurgents armed with AK-47 rifles.
Peru’s Interior Ministry estimates Shining Path’s current strength at between 200 and 300 insurgents. Intelligence officers say the group has recently received new weapons as well as fresh uniforms and boots.
Army spokesmen said traces of a guerrilla camp were found near the spot where Comandante Artemio taped his interview. Police reported the arrest of a high-level Shining Path operative in the nearby town of Tingo Maria last week.
Shining Path propaganda activities have been taking place throughout the central valley region, according to local inhabitants quoted in the Peruvian press. The newspaper El Correo reported that insurgents have renewed efforts to recruit youngsters and collect information in several villages where they have threatened to attack police stations.
Mr. Castillo insisted that the guerrillas are just “remnants” of the movement that once terrorized Peru. He said the Shining Path does not pose a serious threat to the government and that it has survived mainly through narcotrafficking.
Former Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi agreed, saying: “We can finish them off because they are not many. They are no longer fighting for political power because it’s out of their reach and have ended up allied with narcotrafficking, which is what gives them money.”
Shining Path provides security for coca plantations as well as cocaine production and transport routes, according to senior government officials in Peru, who say that the group charges a tax to narcotraffickers based on the volume of drugs produced.
Some analysts have warned that Shining Path could be copying tactics used by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which grew into a major terrorist organization controlling large swaths of Peru’s northern neighbor by protecting narcotraffickers.
Bolivia’s former army chief, Gen. Marcelo Antezana, has said Shining Path elements have also been detected in Bolivia, where there has been a major increase in cocaine production.
Suspected Peruvian terrorists have been linked to criminal activities including a string of bank robberies in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. Security officials say some of the stolen money has gone toward reactivating guerrilla operations.