Terrorists Exploit Peru’s Border Conflict
LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Fifty people have died in the past 10 days in an unintended side effect of Peru’s border war with Ecuador _ the increase of guerrilla activity in central Peru.
The army, in response, killed 15 rebels Sunday in the Upper Huallaga Valley, a guerrilla stronhghold. The government reported Monday that five soldiers died in the clash and an estimated 20 rebels were wounded.
Analysts say guerrillas are taking advantage of the border dispute, which forced the government to move anti-insurgency troops from the Huallaga Valley, on the jungle-shrouded eastern slopes of the Andes, to reinforce the border.
The Shining Path maintains its principal stronghold in the Upper Huallaga. With the removal of troops, ``the Shining Path has an open field,″ said David Montoya, a terrorism expert for DESCO, a Lima think tank.
Earlier this month, authorities in the Huallaga Valley town of Tingo Maria, 200 miles northeast of Lima, declared a night curfew after guerrilla attacks in surrounding villages. Residents of some of the villages have taken refuge in the town for protection.
But Sunday’s bloody battle shows the government is sending troops back into the Huallaga Valley. Peru began moving troops from the northern border after a cease-fire with Ecuador took effect March 1.
Montoya said the Shining Path will probably continue to increase its attacks, especially in Lima, in the four weeks that remain before presidential elections April 9.
Observers say the Shining Path has intensified its indoctrination and recruiting efforts in Lima’s shantytowns in recent months. Its propaganda, including graffiti in poor capital barrios and the Huallaga Valley, warns people not to vote.
``The Shining Path is going to gear up now,″ Montoya said. ``They have never failed to make their presence known before and during an election.″
Residents of Lima can expect bombing attacks _ possibly against power facilities to cause blackouts _ as well as assassinations of political leaders in poorer neighborhoods, Montoya said.
Last week, the U.S. State Department issued a warning to Americans traveling to Peru before the elections, advising them to avoid government installations, diplomatic missions and crowded commercial areas, especially at night.
A small bomb went off across the street from the U.S. Embassy in Lima on Feb. 28, but it caused no damage.
The Maoist Shining Path, 15 years into a war with the Peruvian government, lost power after the capture of its founder, Abimael Guzman, in September 1992.
But almost 400 terrorist attacks were reported last year, and 646 people died in political violence. In 1992, at the height of the guerrilla violence, the death toll reached 3,101.
Nearly 30,000 Peruvians have died in political violence since 1980.