By Fernando Gimeno
Lima, May 25 (EFE).- The death toll from a massacre attributed to remnants of the once-powerful Shining Path guerrilla group has climbed to 16, Peru’s military said Tuesday.
The two latest victims of the early Monday mass killing were found at the crime scene after an anti-terrorism prosecutor had inspected the remote jungle area and ordered the removal of the remains, the Joint Command of the Armed Forces of Peru said in a statement.
The massacre, which occurred less than two weeks before the country’s runoff presidential election, took place at a bar in Vizcatan del Ene, a municipality located in the heart of southern Peru’s Valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers, or VRAEM, area.
The VRAEM is Peru’s largest region for the production of coca, the raw material of cocaine, and the main bastion of the remnants of the Maoist-inspired Shining Path, which was defeated at the national level nearly three decades ago.
Peruvian authorities accuse the surviving Shining Path units of having joined forces with drug cartels in the VRAEM.
The victims of the massacre include the female owner of the bar, as well as two of her sisters and their respective daughters. The other victims are believed to have been local customers of that establishment.
The military’s statement says the massacre was an act of “social cleansing” carried out by the Militarized Communist Party of Peru (MPCP), adding that a pamphlet bearing the name of that Shining Path splinter group was found at the scene.
The pamphlet supposedly left by the perpetrators claimed the need to cleanse Peru of “brothels, homosexuals, lesbians, drug addicts and undisciplined individuals.”
That same leaflet also warned people not to vote in the June 6 presidential runoff, a contest that pits leftist candidate Pedro Castillo, a former schoolteacher, against Keiko Fujimori, a right-wing erstwhile lawmaker and first lady.
It also branded all Fujimori voters as “traitors.”
Witnesses and survivors of Monday’s massacre told the Ojo Publico portal that at least three men armed with rifles began firing indiscriminately and without saying a word, though adding that they were not wearing the black clothing typically associated with the MPCP.
The massacre was immediately condemned by both Castillo and Fujimori, both of whom pledged to take action to eradicate terrorism, violence and drug-trafficking in the VRAEM.
Although Shining Path remnants have habitually carried out attacks shortly before Peruvian presidential elections, they had previously targeted soldiers and police officers instead of civilians.
The VRAEM is the last battleground of a bloody internal conflict pitting Peru’s armed forces against the Maoist-inspired Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, a Marxist rebel organization.
In a 2003 report, Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission blamed the Shining Path for the largest share of the 69,000 deaths that occurred in two decades of conflict between security forces and insurgents beginning in 1980.
Former President Alberto Fujimori, a son of Japanese immigrants and Keiko’s father, is credited with permanently debilitating the Shining Path during his 1990-2000 rule.
The most decisive blow was struck in September 1992 when the Shining Path’s high command – including its founder Abimael Guzman, a former university professor who is now 86 and serving a life sentence for terrorism and treason – were captured at a residence in Lima.
But Fujimori’s sanctioning of the use of military death squads as part of his government’s effort to crush the rebels led to the ex-president being sentenced to 25 years behind bars in 2009. EFE