Leftist rebels in Peru have staged one of their deadliest attacks in years, killing 13 soldiers in an ambush of a military patrol in the country’s remote southeast.
Peruvian Defense Minister Antero Flores Araoz said on Saturday the attackers from the Shining Path rebel group used dynamite and grenades, and their victims included a captain, a junior officer and 11 soldiers.
Flores Araoz told reporters at a press conference that the remote jungle area and communications problems accounted for the delay in announcing the attack, which had occurred on Thursday.
The assault, one of the deadliest by the once-formidable Maoist guerrilla group in the past decade, also left one person missing and two more wounded.
“Most of the soldiers plunged over a cliff,” the minister said, but the circumstances of the deaths and the fall off the mountainside were not immediately clear.
The ambush came only hours after one soldier was killed and four were wounded in another Shining Path attack on a military patrol in the same area of Ayacucho department, 550km southeast of the capital Lima.
The defense minister said an army unit and a helicopter have been dispatched from Huanta city to help the survivors of the ambush and hunt down the rebel attackers.
Once Peru’s most powerful rebel group, the Shining Path were defeated and scattered after a government crackdown under then-president Alberto Fujimori.
The latest ambush came barely 48 hours after Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in crimes committed by an army death squad during his 1990 to 2000 rule.
He is accused of conducting a “dirty war” to fight the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru rebels.
Shining Path remnants have lately grown bolder in their attacks and have made the coca growing region along the Apurimac Ene river their stronghold, allying themselves with local drug traffickers.
“We’ll win this war,” Flores Araoz told reporters. “This attack in no way weakens the moral fiber of the armed forces.”
Sociologist Jaime Antezana said there have been 11 rebel attacks on military patrols in the past 11 months, adding that the military “fare the worst.”
“These are not isolated but systematic attacks. We’re dealing with highly mobile rebel forces who since 2005 have been expanding their presence in the coca growing valley in southeastern Peru,” the expert in rebel and drug violence told RPP radio.
Authorities accuse the Shining Path of involvement in Peru’s drug trade and of using the profits to fund its cause.
Peruvian Prime Minister Yehude Simon decried Thursday’s ambushes as “desperate responses by the Shining Path in the face of advances by the armed forces” in Apurimac Ene.
“I have no doubt that in the next years this zone will be free of leftover terrorists” Simon said.
Thursday’s attack was the deadliest since an Oct. 10 rebel ambush that killed 14 people — 12 soldiers and two civilians — in nearby Huancavelica Department.
Antezana, a specialist on narco-trafficking and violent unrest, says there have been 21 rebel ambushes since July 2003 that have left 35 soldiers, 23 police and more than a dozen civilians dead.
The surge in rebel violence prompted an army offensive in the region last year to mop up Shining Path stragglers in the remote and jungle-covered Apurimac-Ene valley region of Vizcatan.