A police officer was killed and three other people wounded Thursday when unknown attackers fired on a helicopter searching for 43 energy company workers kidnapped earlier this week in the jungles of southeastern Peru’s Cuzco region, the Interior Ministry said in a communique.
The top elected official in La Convencion province, Fedia Castro, told RPP radio that the helicopter was downed in the Alto Kepashiato zone.
Defense Minister Alberto Otarola, who traveled to Cuzco on Thursday to oversee the search for the hostages, visited a clinic in the town of Kiteni to check on the status of the wounded survivors, Castro said.
Killed in the attack was Capt. Nancy Flores, the co-pilot of the helicopter, while the pilot, police Maj. Roberto Ramos, gunner Luis Guerrero and a civilian acting as a guide, Elver Huaman, were wounded, according to the government communique.
The chopper was attacked as it was taking off after dropping off some police in Kiteni, Castro told RPP. She said the shots came from a nearby mountain, most likely from members of the group that kidnapped the workers.
The government said Thursday it “does not negotiate with terrorists,” referring to the kidnappers’ demand for $10 million to free the captives.
“The government does not negotiate with terrorists, the government operates within the framework of the law,” Justice Minister Juan Jimenez told the official Andina news agency.
“Work is being done under the command of the Interior Ministry, work by the Defense Ministry, security work in the area to rescue these people alive,” Jimenez said.
Peruvians should have confidence that the security forces will soon be able to return the 43 workers “to their families safe and sound,” President Ollanta Humala said Thursday.
The mass abduction took place Monday in the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, or VRAE, region, where both drug traffickers and remnants of the Shining Path guerrilla group operate.
All the hostages are employees of Coga and Skanska, which are contractors on the massive Camisea natural gas project.
The government declared a state of emergency Wednesday in La Convencion province and deployed 1,500 soldiers in the area to “isolate” the kidnappers, officials said.
“As soon as the incident occurred, a unified armed forces and National Police command was established” to go after the “narcoterrorists” who kidnapped the gas company contractors, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The command “has taken action in this case since Monday, with the discretion and reserve required in a matter of such a delicate nature,” the ministry said.
Victor Quispe Palomino, known as “Comrade Jose,” commands the Shining Path fighters in the VRAE region, where, according to officials, the rebels have joined forces with drug cartels and producers of illegal coca, the raw material for cocaine.
The government has made the elimination of the Shining Path’s remnants a priority.
The Maoist-inspired Shining Path 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.
Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman was captured with his top lieutenants on Sept. 12, 1992, an event that marked the “defeat” of the insurgency.