A resurgence of violence by Shining Path rebels in Peru this week raised questions on whether the Maoist group, thought to have been nearly eradicated, is staging a comeback.
Shining Path fighters ambushed an army patrol Thursday, killing five soldiers and two civilians and wounding several others, the group's bloodiest attack on the army since the killing of five soldiers in a 1999 helicopter ambush.
Authorities are doubly concerned because Thursday's attack was on a patrol sent out specifically to root out what were thought to be remnants of the Shining Path.
It occurred in village of Matucana in Ayacucho province, 500km south of Lima.
The dead included four officers and one enlisted man. The two civilians were part of a local self-defense force acting as guides for the patrol, tracking a column of some 50 Shining Path guerrillas who had been recruiting in a nearby village earlier in the week.
Immediately after the attack, Vice President Raul Diez Canseco, during a visit to Chile, acknowledged an apparent resurgence of Shining Path activity in his country, but stressed Peru remained safe.
He sought to downplay the incident, calling it the work of an isolated group of guerrillas, which former president Alberto Fujimori attempted to crush.
Cancseco claimed the Shining Path activities were limited to a rural area in the southeast of the country that is difficult to access.
A week ago, Peruvian anti-terrorist police announced the capture of what was believed to be the last Shining Path leader still at large.
Florentino Cerron Cardoso was captured on July 5 in the city of Huancayo, in the Andes of central Peru, after a lengthy intelligence operation, said General Marco Miyashiro, chief of Peru's anti-terrorism police force.
Cerron Cardoso was a member of the Shining Path's central organizing committee and had attended its first congress in 1989.
The October 1999 attack, which claimed the lives of five soldiers, was a fiasco that signaled the demise of the Fujimori strategy of isolation and decapitation.
The victims comprised a delegation of high-level army officers, arriving in the heart of Shining Path territory in a military helicopter after weeks of secret talks on the surrender of a Shining Path leader still at large.
The officers were part of the government's anti-insurrection strategy team.
The instant their helicopter set down and its occupants were descending, guerrillas opened fire in what turned out to be a decisive and humiliating massacre.
The bodies were recovered months later, mutilated and dismembered, in what was broadly seen as the death knell for Fujimori's campaign to eradicate the Maoists on their own turf.
Thursday's ambush was seen as worse still, including the deaths of two members of the government-armed and organized civilian self-defense forces formed in the past decade as the spearhead of the anti-subversion battle.