LIMA – A suspected Shining Path guerrilla leader has been captured in the jungles of Peru’s Upper Huallaga Valley, the La Republica newspaper reported Monday.
Felix Mejia Ascencios, who was the No. 4 commander of the Shining Path’s remnants in the Upper Huallaga, served as the security chief for “Comrade Artemio,” the only remaining high-profile fugitive of the guerrilla group, which terrorized Peru in the 1980s, police said.
The Upper Huallaga Valley is a center of coca cultivation and cocaine production.
The 31-year-old Mejia was arrested in a hamlet in the Huanuco region on Sunday afternoon as he was drinking in a bar.
The suspected guerrilla, who is accused of taking part in ambushes of police on June 14, 2007, and Nov. 26, 2008, was carrying a loaded 9 mm pistol.
The Shining Path has a presence in both the Upper Huallaga Valley and the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, known as the VRAE region, where it staged an attack Aug. 2 on a police special operations base in San Jose de Seque, a district in the southern Andean province of Ayacucho, that left three officers and two civilians dead.
Remnants of the guerrilla group operate in both valleys, working with drug traffickers and staging attacks on the security forces.
President Alan Garcia said last week that the remaining Shining Path guerrillas operating in the jungles of the VRAE region “must be exterminated.”
This will be “a long-term project,” Garcia said, adding that the current terrorism problem “isn’t the tenth part and maybe not even the hundredth part of what it was in the 1980s.”
“This remnant of Shining Path must be exterminated, we have to eradicate it, but I see it as a job that requires patience,” the president said during a visit to the southern city of Tacna last Thursday.
Interior Minister Octavio Salazar also said last week that the Shining Path’s remnants remained a threat to public safety in the jungles of the VRAE region.
The interior minister said there was a “perverse alliance” in the VRAE between the rebels and drug traffickers.
Comrade Artemio called on the government last December for a “political solution” to end the armed conflict.
Artemio told Radio La Luz, which broadcasts from the jungle town of Aucayacu, some 600 kilometers (373 miles) from Lima, on Dec. 23 that his fighters would continue to launch attacks as long as the security forces went after them.
Artemio, whose real identity is not known, repeated that his group wanted “a political solution” and accused the security forces of committing “a great many” violations.
The guerrilla leader, who some sources have identified as Alberto Cerron Cardoso or Gabriel Macario Ala, operates in Peru’s central jungle with about 100 fighters.
In May, La Republica reported that Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman, who is serving a life sentence for terrorism, called the remaining members of the guerrilla group operating in the VRAE region mercenaries.
“It’s a group of mercenaries who look out for their personal interests and not those of the people. They are simplistic, they do not know ideology. They have practically tossed Marxism-Leninism-Maoism into the trash can,” Guzman told National Police intelligence officers.
The remnants of the Shining Path did not comply with Guzman’s order more than a decade ago to end the armed struggle.
Guzman does not recognize the remaining fighters as Shining Path members.
The Maoist-inspired group launched its uprising on May 17, 1980, with an attack on Chuschi, a small town in Ayacucho province.
A truth commission appointed by former President Alejandro Toledo blamed the Shining Path for most of the nearly 70,000 deaths the panel ascribed to politically motivated violence during the two decades following the group’s 1980 uprising.
The guerrilla group also caused an estimated $25 billion in economic losses, according to commission estimates.
Guzman, known to his fanatic followers as “President Gonzalo,” was captured with his top lieutenants on Sept. 12, 1992, an event that marked the “defeat” of the insurgency.
Guzman, who was a professor of philosophy at San Cristobal University before initiating his armed struggle in the Andean city of Ayacucho, once predicted that 1 million Peruvians would probably have to die in the ushering-in of the new state envisioned by Shining Path.
The group became notorious for some of its innovations, such as blowing apart with dynamite the bodies of community service workers its members killed, or hanging stray canines from lampposts as warnings to “capitalist dogs.” EFE