The Miami Herald
Jul. 12, 2003

Ambush by rebels kills 7 in Peru

Worst military loss in 4 years

  Associated Press

  PICHARI, Peru - In the worst loss for the Peruvian military in four years, Shining Path rebels ambushed a 30-man patrol in a rugged mountainous jungle, killing seven and wounding 10, military sources said Friday.

  The Thursday afternoon attack, which comes a month after guerrillas kidnapped scores of pipeline workers in the same general area, indicates a resurgence in activity by the Shining Path, which residents here say is now better-armed than the military forces fighting it. The Shining Path, which follows a hard-core communist ideology and seeks to overthrow the Peruvian government, launched its armed conflict in 1980 after a decade of planning.

  By the early 1990s, the group almost brought the Peruvian government to its knees, assassinating mayors and peasants unwilling to support them in the countryside and waging a car bomb campaign in the capital, Lima.

  The violence dropped significantly with the capture of founder Abimael Guzman in 1992.

  But the rebel faction operating in the area of Thursday's attack apparently has made a clean separation and distanced itself from Guzman, who is seeking a peacefully negotiated settlement that includes amnesty for hundreds of imprisoned rebels.

  The central government declined to comment Friday on the attack, saying a statement would soon be released.

  But an army officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a marine captain, four other marines and two civilian guides were killed in the ambush in the Ayacucho region when rebels opened fire after the patrol stopped in a clearing to take a break.

  The attack took place in the same region where 71 pipeline workers were kidnapped by guerrillas at a remote pipeline construction camp last month.

  The workers were released a day later.

  Since then, about 20 police and military patrols have been combing the thick, jungle-covered gorges on the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in search of the rebel kidnappers.

  One soldier has been killed and at least two wounded on patrols.

  The ambushed patrol had been transported by helicopter early Thursday to the village of Matucana, where intelligence reports indicated rebels had bought supplies, the officer said.

  Locals said Friday that about 50 to 60 rebels entered the village for supplies and spent about three hours there Wednesday night.

  The guerrillas apparently attacked the marines in a clearing outside Matucana after the entire patrol had stopped for rations, with many of the soldiers putting down their weapons to eat.

  Villagers in the area say the Shining Path is providing protection to drug traffickers.

  They say they have seen armed rebels escort mule trains packed down with partially refined cocaine out of the Apurimac River valley.

  Unlike in the past, when rebels raided villages and stole supplies, they are now using U.S. dollars to buy them, villagers say.