December 22, 2005

Peru declares state of emergency after rebel attack

By Robin Emmott

LIMA (Reuters) - President Alejandro Toledo on Thursday
declared a state of emergency in Peru's central jungle after
Shining Path guerrillas killed eight policemen amid an upsurge
in violence from the Maoist group.

The emergency decree bans public gatherings and gives
police and military the right to search houses and make arrests
without warrants.

The rebels killed eight policemen in an ambush on a police
vehicle out on routine patrol in the remote Huanuco region on
Tuesday, some 220 miles northeast of Lima.

The group that led one of Latin America's bloodiest
insurgencies in the 1980s and early 1990s has killed at least
19 police and military officers this year as it links up with
what officials and drug experts say an increasingly lucrative
drugs trade.

Peru is the world's No. 2 cocaine producer after Colombia
and production has risen sharply since 2003 as poor farmers
increase production of coca, the drug's raw material.

"This is Peru's new armed conflict and it revolves around
coca, in defense of coca and an alliance between drug
traffickers and remnants of the Shining Path," said independent
drugs analyst Jaime Antezana.

New areas of coca were springing up in Peru's central
jungle, despite the destruction of 29,600 acres (12,000
hectares) of the crop this year, as Mexican and Colombian
cartels expand in Peru, according to the government.

"Drug traffickers are becoming increasingly sophisticated
... and there are these rebel groups in league with Mexican and
Colombian traffickers," Fernando Hurtado, deputy head of state
anti-drugs agency DEVIDA, told Reuters.

Hurtado estimated Peru now had the capacity to produce 170
tonnes of tonnes of cocaine this year, up 6 percent from 2004
and up by more than a quarter compared to 2003.


The rebels at large are no longer Maoists, "but bandits
making a living out of crime," according to Benedicto Jimenez,
former head of Peru's antiterrorist police and who captured
Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman in 1992.

"They've sold out their ideology to make money," said
Peru's Prime Minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

Shining Path began its "popular war" in Peru by burning
ballot boxes in the Andes in 1980 on the eve of the first
democratic elections in 12 years.

A government truth commission in 2003 blamed Shining Path
for more than half the 69,280 deaths in the 1980s and 1990s
rebel wars with the government.

The group was defeated after Guzman was captured but
several hundred rebels remain holed-up in the jungle and were
blamed for a bomb outside the U.S. embassy in Lima in 2002.

Today they offer protection for drug traffickers, who
supply them weapons, and say they defend poor coca farmers who
say coca is a sacred crop with medicinal qualities that is
central to their ancient traditions.

In an August interview with Peru's Republica newspaper,
"Comrade Artemio" -- the man who says he is the top leader of
Peru's Shining Path rebels outside of prison -- said he would
continue with a campaign of "selective annihilation" against
police and military officers.

"We don't defend drugs trafficking, only the coca
producer," he added.

Peru has put a $50,000 price on Artemio's head and Toledo
said he was determined to beat the rebels. "We're not going to
leave our police and military forces exposed," he said.

(Additional reporting by Marco Aquino)