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PERU: All-Out War on Remnant of ‘Shining Path’ Guerrillas

Ángel Páez

LIMA, May 9 2008 (IPS) - The armed forces have launched a major offensive against the most combative remaining column of Sendero Luminoso (the Maoist Shining Path guerrillas) which is operating in the jungle valleys of the Ene and Apurimac rivers in southeastern Peru, where most of the country’s coca leaf and cocaine is produced.

By order of the armed forces’ Joint Command, 5,000 troops belonging to army infantry brigades No. 2 and No. 31, 200 members of Special Operations and the marines, and 200 more from the air force Defence and Special Operations unit, have been mobilised to the area.

The enemy they are facing is made up of only 200 combatants.

In addition to sending the large contingent of troops, the Joint Command ordered up two MI-25 and MI-17 helicopter gunships, as well as reconnaissance airplanes, and set up a river base manned by two patrols.

“Never before have so many and such highly-trained personnel been concentrated in the valleys of the Apurimac and Ene rivers (a region known by the acronym VRAE) to fight the Senderistas,” a Joint Command source told IPS.

The troops are commanded by General Raymundo Flores of the VRAE Special Detachment, which is based in the village of Pichari, in the province of Cuzco.

“The objective is to neutralise the column of 200 heavily armed men led by ‘Comrade José,’ a battle-hardened Senderista with extensive knowledge of the area,” military sources said.

“Comrade José’s” real name is Víctor Quispe, a 49-year-old Shining Path member who joined the guerrilla group when he was an anthropology student at the National University of San Cristóbal de Huamanga.

At that university in the capital of the southern Andean region of Ayacucho, philosophy Professor Abimael Guzmán began the armed struggle based on Maoist doctrines on May 17, 1980, unleashing a civil war which by 2000 had cost 69,000 lives.

On Sept. 12, 1992, police in Lima captured Guzmán and nearly all the members of the Central Committee of the Peruvian Communist Party-Shining Path. In October 1993, Guzmán and the other detained leaders signed a peace accord with the government of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000).

However, the leaders of the Central Regional Committee, which operates in the VRAE region, and the Huallaga Regional Committee, active in the jungle valley of the Huallaga river, did not accept the negotiations or their outcome, and continued to wage what they call the “people’s war.”

Óscar Ramírez, one of the founders of Shining Path, also known as “Feliciano”, commanded the Central Regional Committee.

On Jul. 14, 1999 “Feliciano” was captured in a military operation and was replaced by his right-hand man, Quispe.

Shortly afterwards Quispe proved his military expertise and in-depth knowledge of the area. On Oct. 2, he and his men ambushed an MI-17 helicopter, killing five soldiers.

Quispe became the most notorious Senderista leader among those who continued the insurgent war. Coca cultivation and cocaine production in the VRAE region contributed to consolidating the Senderistas’ position there, according to several sources.

In a proclamation, Quispe announced the beginning of the “third phase of the people’s war,” following the first phase, led by Guzmán (1980-1992) and the second, conducted by Ramírez (1992-1999).

“Víctor Quispe used small coca farmers’ resistance to forced eradication of coca plantations in order to expand his power,” said a source within the anti-terrorist police (DIRCOTE).

“The Senderistas ambush the armed forces and the police, and they tell the campesinos (small farmers): ‘We defend your interests, we are the people’s army, we aren’t going to kill you.’ Apparently their strategy has changed, because when Guzmán was the commander, they killed the campesinos who opposed the Senderistas,” the source said.

According to the 2007 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), cocaine production in Peru rose from 141 tonnes in 2000 to 280 tonnes in 2006, an increase of 98.6 percent.

Military sources said that the Senderistas “are now part of the cocaine production process. They are drug traffickers.”

An intelligence report by the division of the National Anti-Drug Directorate (DIRANDRO) that investigates and controls chemical substances used to refine illegal drugs says that wanted members of the Shining Path have been captured during interdictions of vehicles transporting products for manufacturing cocaine.

“The Senderistas have plenty of money since they joined the cocaine production chain,” an investigation division official told IPS.

“Not only are they a private army for the drug traffickers, but they are an integral part of the drug mafia itself, because they produce pure cocaine and sell it. They finance their war with those funds,” he said.

Two of Quispe’s brothers, Jorge and Iván, are part of the Shining Path leadership. The Quispe family is from Umaru, Ayacucho, the main theatre of Senderista actions.

According to the authorities, the rebels’ modus operandi is to ambush police patrols on their rounds in the area.

On Mar. 23, presumed Senderistas attacked two police vans in Quinua, close to Huamanga. One police officer died and another 13 were wounded. The attackers made off with 14 Kalashnikov assault rifles.

A report from the Interior Ministry’s Directorate-General of Intelligence, which IPS saw, says that Quispe has organised a “support network” in Lima.

“There is no military solution. Not only columns of troops are needed, but also columns of teachers, doctors, builders, and agronomists” to reduce violence in these very poor areas, admitted the Joint Command sources. “Poverty cannot be eliminated with bullets.”

According to these sources, the first phase of the strategy against Shining Path has been set in motion, and by the end of the year they hope to have Quispe within their grasp. May 17 will be the 28th anniversary of Quispe’s war against the Peruvian state.

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