Peruvian troops on Sunday captured the wounded leader of a remnant of the once-powerful Shining Path rebel group, effectively dismantling a well-armed outlaw band that lived off the cocaine trade, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala said.
Humala, a former army lieutenant colonel, flew to the remote coca-growing Upper Huallaga Valley of central Peru to congratulate the police and soldiers who had snared the 50-year-old rebel, Comrade Artemio, and two of his confederates.
Artemio, whose given name is Florindo “Jose” Flores, was later flown to Lima where doctors at a police hospital operated on him to remove two bullets from his torso, said Raul Sanchez, spokesman for the chief prosecutor’s office. Artemio also had shrapnel wounds in both hands, he said.
As he arrived in Lima and was wheeled from a plane, journalists saw Artemio raise his right arm and shout something indiscernible.
“The Shining Path is no longer a threat to the country. It’s capacity is limited,” Humala said from the counternarcotics base Artemio was initially airlifted.
A photo released by the presidency showed him standing beside Artemio, both of the rebel’s hands bandaged along with his chest.
Humala said that with the capture of Artemio and several of his top lieutenants in recent weeks, the Upper Huallaga had been pacified, making agribusiness, cattle ranching and tourism now possible. The valley is currently the only region of Peru where US-financed coca eradication is occurring.
Analysts consider Artemio’s capture a crippling blow to a roughly 150-strong band that represented about half of what remains of the Shining Path, which killed thousands during the 1980s and 1990s.
He was apprehended at 3am, said Sanchez, near where he was wounded three days earlier under circumstances neither Humala nor other officials explained.
Peruvian Minister of Defense Alberto Otarola said on Friday that Artemio was wounded in combat with government forces early Thursday in the village of Puerto Pizana. However, local journalists have reported that at least one of his own men may have turned on him.
The other remaining Shining Path faction, also involved in the drug trade, is centered further south in the valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers.
Humala said security forces would now focus efforts on fighting that group, which was blamed for an attack on a remote police station on Monday last week in which two officers were wounded.