Armed Conflicts, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

PERU: Army’s Version of Civil War Events Questioned

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Dec 28 2010 (IPS) - A decade after the end of Peru’s 20-year counterinsurgency war was officially declared, the army broke its silence, to give its own version of events.

The report, “In Honour of the Truth”, based on dispatches by officers involved in combat missions, contradicts the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), which issued a lengthy report on the 1980-2000 armed conflict in 2003, based principally on the testimony of survivors and relatives of victims.

According to the CVR, nearly 70,000 people, mainly indigenous peasants, were killed or forcibly disappeared, as victims of the Maoist Shining Path guerrillas or the state security forces.

“We are only giving our account of the events and facts, which are described in the war dispatches,” said General Otto Guibovich, who was army chief until the first week of December, and who ordered the drafting of the report in 2009.

“To write the history of a conflict, anyone knows it is necessary to consult the war dispatches, because that’s where the history is recorded,” he told IPS.

“This is a very professional report that reflects both the version of the officers who took part in the war and of the rank-and-file troops who talk about their experiences in unknown episodes of the armed conflict,” Guibovich said.

“We haven’t invented or changed anything. Everything that is in the report has been documented. This is a contribution to getting the truth out.”

According to the army report, which was officially presented in late November, the massacres of civilians committed by members of the military were the actions of individuals that did not form part of military doctrine, since counterinsurgency manuals do not recommend wiping out entire populations, but winning over hearts and minds instead.

“The human rights violations that regrettably occurred during the war were not a systematic practice, and were neither ordered nor orchestrated by the Peruvian army command, but were the result of absolutely individual decisions and actions,” the report says.

Human rights lawyer Karim Ninaquispe of the Runamasinchiqpaq human rights association (ADEHR), who represents the families of victims of the massacre in the highlands village of Accomarca, one of the worst mass killings committed in the war, said that claim is half-true, because no one in a war issues an order for a massacre of civilians in writing.

“The report collects information in a biased manner that does not necessarily reflect the truth,” she said. “In investigations into these crimes, like the one in Accomarca, the likelihood of finding written orders for killing or disappearing people is small.

“The army does not set down the statements of Telmo Hurtado, who personally led the massacre (of 69 villagers, mainly women and children) in Accomarca, which implicate the military high command and prove that (Hurtado’s) actions were not an ‘excess’ of war, as they are trying to depict,” Ninaquispe said.

Another controversial assertion by “In Honour of the Truth” is that the Army Intelligence Service (SIE) “death squad” known as the Colina Group was never officially part of the army.

The Colina Group carried out the notorious Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres in 1991 and 1992, in which a total of 25 civilians were killed. Former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) is serving a 25-year sentence in connection with the killings.

“No detachment, group, unit, department or division under that name exists or existed in the army’s records,” says the report in one of only three paragraphs dedicated to the criminal organisation that acted with the authorisation of the military brass.

In cryptic terms, and without specifically mentioning Fujimori or his security chief, Vladimiro Montesinos — who is also in prison on multiple human rights and corruption charges — the report blames them for the death squad’s actions.

“During the government that was in power between the 1990s and 2000…certain individuals used the authority invested in them to begin a succession of illegal actions that altered the order within and outside of the army…That is how, with a view to achieving objectives designed and planned by themselves, they created irregular bodies,” the report says.

But during the trials in which Fujimori and Montesinos were tried for the activities of the death squad, which killed an estimated 50 people between November 1991 and July 1992, official documents and confessions by members of the military clearly demonstrated that the Colina Group was part of the army.

“The Colina Group formed part of the structure of the army, and was created through the Army Intelligence Directorate (DINTE), in August 1991,” Avelino Guillén, one of the prosecutors in Fujimori’s human rights trial, told IPS.

“There are documents signed by former DINTE chief General Juan Rivero Lazo, ordering that Army Intelligence Service agents and army weapons and installations be put at the disposal of Colonel Fernando Rodríguez, who was in charge of organising the group. This shows that the army’s claim is false,” he added.

“What’s more, former army commander Nicolás Hermoza himself admitted that he held a private meeting with the members of the Colina Group in the main army base, and that he urged them to fulfil their duty. These events cannot be obviated by the army,” Guillén said.

According to the army’s report, 1,067 members of the military died in the armed conflict: 101 officers, 90 noncommissioned officers and technicians, and 876 rank-and-file members.

“During the conflict, 1,022,000 military patrols were carried out, and purported excesses that are now the focus of court cases were reported in only 47 of them,” General Guibovich told IPS. “That is something like 0.004 percent of the total. This is a historical statistic, not an invention. So, we can’t talk about systematic massacres.

“In the report we acknowledge our mistakes and the lessons learned in order to avoid a repeat of regrettable events. As actors and victors in the conflict, we have a right to offer our version,” he said.

Peruvian Judge Diego García Sayán, the president of the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, commended the army for deciding to provide its account, from its own perspective.

“I highlight the army’s effort to investigate and reflect on a period in which it played a fundamental role,” he told IPS, speaking in a personal capacity. “The report is a contribution to knowing, from the point of view of those who fought in defence of democracy, what happened during the armed conflict whose impact is still being felt.

“One might not necessarily agree with what is said, but the army’s intention of getting its own version out must be underscored,” García Sayán said.

In his view, “keeping silent over dire events does not contribute to the search for the truth. In that sense, the army’s decision to publicly discuss its central role during the conflict poses a challenge to those who believe that the best thing is for nothing to be said, for fear of how history will judge them.”

Republish | | Print |