Photo: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala with a natural gas plant in the background.
The government said Thursday it “does not negotiate with terrorists,” referring to the armed group that kidnapped 43 energy company workers earlier this week in the jungles of southeastern Peru’s Cuzco region and is demanding $10 million for their release.
“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.
Assistance will be provided to the hostages’ families, the justice minister said, adding that it was unfortunate that such groups still operated in the Andean country.
The mass abduction took place Monday in the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, or VRAE, region, where both drug traffickers and the 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, where the mass kidnapping occurred, 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.
The armed group that seized the workers is demanding $10 million for their release and an additional $1.2 million a year as a “war fee,” the Correo newspaper reported, posting a copy of the handwritten ransom note on its Web page.
Nine of the workers were captured at a camp, while the rest were seized in the town of Kepashiato, an Interior Ministry source told Efe.
“Initially there were 45 captives and the only ones freed have been a doctor and a nurse who could not advance through the jungle. To them, they (the captors) gave the notes with their demands,” the source said.
Shining Path leader “Comrade Artemio,” who was identified by the government as Florindo Flores Hala, was captured on Feb. 12 in a jungle area in the Upper Huallaga Valley and is being held at the Callao navy base as he awaits trial on terrorism and drug trafficking charges.
“Comrade Freddy,” who took over the leadership of the Shining Path following Comrade Artemio’s arrest, was captured in the Huanuco region a short time later.
Comrade Artemio commanded the Shining Path’s remnants in the Upper Huallaga Valley, while Victor Quispe Palomino, known as “Comrade Jose,” commands the fighters in the VRAE region.
The rebels have joined forces with drug cartels and producers of illegal coca, the raw material for cocaine, officials say.
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.
The guerrilla group, according to commission estimates, also caused an estimated $25 billion in economic losses.
Shining Path founder Abimael 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.
The guerrilla leader, 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.”