The defense and interior ministers of Peru have resigned amidst fierce criticism over the death of eight police officers in a recent clash with left-wing Shining Path rebels south of the country, media reports citing officials said Friday.
The development comes as both Interior Minister Daniel Lozada and Defense Minister Alberto Otarola were under threat of being censured by the country's Congress over the death of the policemen and the search operations that followed.
The incident in question happened after Shining Path rebels ambushed a convoy of security forces and police officers as they were pursuing a group of rebel fighters who had abducted 36 gas workers last month near natural gas fields in the Apurimac-Ene valley in the southern region of Cusco.
There was a public outrage in Peru after the father of one of the policeman killed in the ambush managed to find his son's body in the jungle by himself days after authorities abandoned their search for the missing.
Further, one wounded policeman had managed to survive in the jungle all alone for 17 days before making his way to safety days after the security forces abandoned their search for their missing colleagues. The incidents triggered calls for resignation of the concerned ministers.
"Recent events have led me to take this decision so that our government and the people can unite behind our security forces, to give them the support they need to defeat narco-terrorism," Otarola was quoted as saying after his resignation.
Incidentally, all the gas workers abducted by the Shining Path rebels were rescued by the security forces in April itself. Officials said the government did not engage in negotiations with the rebels for release of the hostages and no ransom was paid.
The Peruvian government had mobilized large number of troops to the coca growing region in the country's Ene and Apurimac River Valleys (VRAE) in August 2008 to tackle the rebel problem. More than 50 soldiers and several rebel fighters have been killed in the region since that time.
The VRAE region, where the Ene and Apurimac rivers meet, is said to be the country's main coca producing area, which is also a stronghold of the Shining Path and drug gangs. The region has witnessed a resurgence of the Shining Path movement in recent years. The movement had been slowly fading out after the capture of its leader, Abimael Guzman, in 1992.
The remaining rebels have now joined forces with the drug traffickers in an effort to raise funds for their insurgency. Some 400 members of the Shining Path are believed to be still active in Peru, the world's second largest producer of coca, the main ingredient in the making of cocaine, after Colombia.
The Maoist-inspired Leftist group was founded in the 1980s with the intention of replacing Peru's "bourgeois democracy" with a Communist government. Although the group was very powerful in the 1980s and the 1990s, its influence waned by 2000 after a fierce crackdown by the then President Alberto Fujimori.
The crackdown, which later became famous as Peru's "dirty war," targeted Shining Path guerrillas and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. More than 70,000 people are estimated to have died in two decades of conflict in the Andean country.
by RTT Staff Writer
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