“We cannot say this terrorist group has been exterminated,” Defense Minister Jakke Valakivi told the BBC. “It is much weakened, of course, but it continues to operate.”
Peru’s Counter-terror chief Jose Baella added that the Maoist left-wing rebels still have around 350 members and 80 fighters.
Yet a report by Peru’s El Comercio cited that the total number of fighters was around 60 men.
News of Peru’s Shining Path (“Sendero Luminoso” in Spanish) comes after a 39 hostages were freed from a slave labor camp operated by the group in the country’s Vraem region – the valley between the Apurímac, Ene and Mantra rivers.
The region is home to the highest number of illegal coca crops in Peru, totalling 18,845 hectares at the end of 2014 according to the UN.
More than just drugs?
“The branch of the Shining Path which operated in the south of the La Convención, Cuzco, has been completely disbanded and the energy and tourism sectors are in good states,” Vega added.
The news breaks as Peru’s government confirmed capture of Alexander Alarcón Soto, alias “comrade Renán” and Dionisio Ramos, alias “comrade Yuri”, key figures in the group operating in the south of Peru.
Yet analysts comment that drugs are not just the only motive fuelling the Shining Path’s actions.
“We maintain that the Shining Path operating in the Vraem region still is politically focused, due to its actions and relations with the civil population.” Ricardo Soberón, Director of Peru’s Drugs and Human Rights Investigation Center commented (CIDDH).
The group initially started its terrorist operations in 1980 up until 2000. It is estimated that around 69,000 people have been killed as a result of Peru’s internal armed conflict.
The disbandment of the guerrilla’s slave labor camp could put a stop to an even bigger threat: recruitment of child soldiers.
Pedro Yaranga, a terrorism and drug trafficking analyst commented that children are “‘stored’ until they reach 12, 13 or 14 years-old to form armed brigades.”
“They are children with parents in the high and medium ranks of the Shining Path, found in the camps where the greatest number of armed brigades form.”
Although the group is very much less active, the Shining Path is still a very recurrent threat for Peruvian government – which just as with coca crops, is yet to be fully eradicated.