- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

AYACUCHO, Peru The hooded rebels arrived before dawn, gathered the villagers in the plaza, separated out the men, 23 in all, and killed each of them by crushing their heads with rocks and cutting their throats so that they died slowly, in agony.

The horrific account last week from survivors of one of the many peasant massacres carried out by ferocious Shining Path guerrillas came at a public hearing by a government truth commission.

Ayacucho province, a region of rugged mountains and deep, jungle-cloaked valleys, was the birthplace of the Shining Path and the site of the worst atrocities in a state-sponsored campaign of brutal repression.

The first hearings last week allowed victims to tell their own stories, and focused on torture, assassinations and disappearances at the hands of security forces. Later, commission members and Peruvians listening to the nationally broadcast testimony heard a different story.

Paulina Abarca, 49, wearing a rainbow-colored poncho wrapped around her shoulders, and Marcelino Chumbez, 26, told a tale that drew looks of horror from commission members.

In the audience were Indian women wearing felt hats decorated with flowers, and men in patched trousers and worn sandals. They listened intently, anguish showing on their faces as the story unfolded.

Speaking in Quechua, the Incan language of the Peruvian highlands, Mrs. Abarca and Mr. Chumbez gave the following account:

Before dawn on Dec. 10, 1989, the people of Paccha were awakened by a volley of gunshots. Two hundred fifty Shining Path rebels had surrounded their village, which had recently formed a peasant militia, at the army's insistence, to defend against rebel attacks.

But the militiamen were armed only with slings and lances. Taken by surprise, they put up no resistance when the rebels dragged families from their small adobe-brick homes and lined them up in the village plaza.

There they separated out the village's 23 men.

"They tied their hands and began killing them, hitting their heads with rocks and then using knives to cut their throats, stab them in the heart, in the back, cut out their tongues, their intestines," said Mr. Chumbez, whose father, Esteban, was the village's elected leader.

"I watched my father die," he said, trying not to show emotion as he described what happened.

As they killed the men one by one, the rebels cursed and insulted them, saying: "You miserable yanayuma, this is what you want?" Mr. Chumbez recalled.

"Yanayuma" is a Quechua word that means "black heads," a reference to the black hoods used by soldiers to hide their identity.

Before fleeing, the rebels plundered the impoverished village, taking blankets, ponchos, sewing machines, radios, cooking pots, just about anything of value and setting five houses ablaze as they withdrew.

Beatriz Alva, one of the commissioners, thanked Mr. Chumbez and Mrs. Abarca for their testimony.

"You can be certain that this account of all the suffering your community has experienced will not only help us in our investigation, but will help Peruvians to understand as well what you suffered," Mrs. Alva said.

Mr. Chumbez asked to put in a final word.

He said none of the four governments in power since the massacre had helped his village to rebuild.

"We want other countries to know what happened here, the United States, Japan, Chile, Brazil, and help with what they can," he said. "The community of Paccha has been destroyed. There is no work in Paccha. Our hope is that some institution might help us."

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