LIMA (Reuters) - Rebels killed five army officers and injured five soldiers, the armed forces said on Thursday - the latest setback in President Ollanta Humala's push to regain control of restive regions rife with cocaine trafficking.
The armed forces said it did not know if rebels suffered any casualties during the shootout in the knotty bundle of jungle valleys known as the VRAE, which is the most productive growing area in the world's top coca producer.
Rebels often catch soldiers in ambushes when they venture outside their fortified bases. Counterinsurgency experts have criticized the government's security strategy as flawed, saying it is too predictable. Humala has cycled through at least three defense ministers since taking office a year ago.
So far this year, 17 soldiers and police have died in shootouts with rebels. More than 50 soldiers and police died in ambushes during the term of Humala's predecessor, Alan Garcia.
Remnant groups of Maoist Shining Path rebels have mocked Humala's goal of stamping out the 30-year-old insurgency.
In April, they captured 36 natural gas workers in their first large-scale kidnapping since 2003 and later said it was a ruse to lure soldiers into ambushes.
Though Shining Path's Maoist founders were captured in the early 1990s, when Humala fought against them as an army officer in a conflict that killed 70,000 people, small rebel units remain active and smuggle drugs in lawless jungle areas.
These armed rebel units say they no longer take orders from the Shining Path's jailed founder, Abimael Guzman.
Taking control of the remote valleys in southeastern Peru is crucial for Humala's economic plans. Construction will soon start on a $3 billion natural gas pipeline that will originate in the area and feed a new petrochemical complex on the Pacific coast.
Peru largely adheres to coca eradication policies favored by the United States, which has said it now believes Peru produces and markets more cocaine than Colombia.
(Reporting by Terry Wade; Editing by Jackie Frank)