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Peru's Shining Path Terrorists Open New Front in Drug War

Relentless atrocities intimidate farmers into shifting crops to coca

By Sally BowenSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / October 25, 1990


SHINING Path, Peru's Maoist guerrilla group, has found a new paradise in the central jungle province of Satipo. Moving north from the Apurimac River, a coca-growing area it has long controlled, Shining Path, or Sendero Luminoso, is turning the Ene Valley into a new battleground for drug trafficking and its revolution against the Peruvian state.

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The option the guerrillas have given local coffee and fruit farmers is brutally clear - cultivate coca and take up arms for us, or die.

Daily incursions and atrocities, albeit poorly publicized, emphasize the need for the new government of Alberto Fujimori to develop a coherent countersubversive strategy, say security officials and church representatives in the region.

``The Ene Valley is a strategic zone,'' says Nemesjo Mejia, mayor of Satipo, a town of 30,000. ``It is a breeding ground and hatchery for subversion.''

Shining Path strategy in the eastern jungle appears to mimic its partly successful struggle to dominate the Upper Huallaga Valley, 300 miles farther north, where most of Peru's - and the world's - coca leaf crop is grown, say Peruvian antidrug police officials.

Since the guerrillas' big push into Santipo late last year, roughly 1,500 villagers are reported by locals to have been killed. Villagers tell of dozens of bodies floating in once-idyllic rivers.

President Fujimori's Sept. 26 rejection of a United States military aid package, worth $35.9 million, was received glumly by counterinsurgency officers. (A broader antidrug strategy was needed to support crop substitution and other forms of employment, Mr. Fujimori said. Officials also said clauses in the package would have breached Peruvian sovereignty.)

``Shining Path has to wipe out anything that opposes it,'' says a police intelligence officer. ``It was a tremendous stupidity not to sign the military agreement'' with the US.

Although the money had been specifically intended to equip six Army and marine battalions for antidrug operations in the Upper Huallaga Valley, police here worry that government rejection of US military assistance will endanger their own hoped-for $20 million US aid package.

With a broken economy and desperately under-funded security forces, Peruvians in emergency zones must largely protect themselves. In Satipo Province, as in many other regions, this means forming community defense groups, or rondas, often at police or Army insistence.

But ``how can we defend ourselves with only two old muskets and pitchforks against their machine guns and grenades,'' asks a villager, whose 30-family village was razed by the Shining Path.

Only the most atrocious Shining Path killings appear in Lima newspapers, much less the international press. The April 12 massacre at Naylam, an example of Shining Path revenge on a ronda, left behind 37 bodies, many mutilated. Smaller-scale murders are too commonplace to attract much attention. ``Six killed in one village yesterday, two elsewhere the day before. But no one counts, no one cares,'' says a Franciscan priest working in the Satipo area.