Two children and 16 adults were shot dead in a remote coca-growing area of Peru, the armed forces said Monday, blaming the attack on members of the Shining Path guerrilla group.
The killings late Sunday risk inflaming tensions amid a polarized campaign for the presidency between leftist Pedro Castillo and his rival from the right, Keiko Fujimori.The villagers were mowed down at San Miguel del Ene in a coca-growing valley where members of the Maoist Shining Path group operate, according to the joint command of the armed forces.
The head of the police counter-terrorism unit, General Oscar Arriola, said the dead included 10 men, six women and two children.
In a statement, the armed forces command blamed the attack on fighters led by guerrilla leader Victor Quispe Palomino, or Comrade Jose.
President Francisco Sagasti on Twitter condemned the killings and ordered police and soldiers to the area to ensure “that this terrorist action does not go unpunished.”
A specialized terrorism unit has been tasked with investigating the killings, which Defense Minister Nuria Esparch vowed “will not go unpunished.”
At the scene of the killings, added the statement, pamphlets were left warning people not to take part in the 2021 election.Police were alerted to the crime by neighbors in the early hours of Monday, and found the bodies, some of them burnt, in two bars on the banks of a small river, according to the region’s mayor Alejandro Atao.
He told police that pamphlets signed by the Shining Path central committee were found near the bodies, vowing to rid the region and Peru of “parasites and the corrupt.”
Most of the Shining Path’s top leaders have been detained by the authorities, but Comrade Jose and other militants remain at large and active in Peru’s coca-growing region, where the government says they collaborate with drug-traffickers.
Comrade Jose’s brother, Jorge Quispe Palomino or Comrade Raul, died in January due to injuries sustained in an attack on a “terrorist camp,” according to the authorities.
With Colombia and Bolivia, Peru is one of the world’s main producers of coca leaves from which cocaine is derived, according to the UN.
Supporters of Fujimori, making her third bid for Peru’s presidency, have tried to link rival Castillo to the Shining Path’s political wing, known as Movadef.
Castillo, who had participated in armed “peasant patrols” that resisted Shining Path incursions during the height of Peru’s internal conflict from 1980 to 2000, vehemently denies the allegations.
On Monday, he condemned on Twitter what he termed a “terrorist attack.”