LIMA (Reuters) - Two police officers were killed and another two injured in an ambush in Peru's southeastern jungle region late on Friday, the latest strike again President Ollanta Humala's drive to regain control of cocaine-trafficking strongholds.
The head of Peru's police force said on Saturday that an anti-drug squad was attacked on its way to the district of Kepashiato in the dense group of jungle valleys known as the VRAEM, the most productive growing area in the world's top coca producer.
"Yesterday, a group of five intelligence unit officers boarded a truck to go to Kepashiato. They were ambushed near kilometer 51 on the highway, presumably by drug traffickers," police chief Raul Salazar told local radio.
Prime Minister Juan Jimenez said: "I'm sure we will continue lamenting (incidents like these). It's inevitable in a war like the one we have in the VRAEM." Rebels often catch soldiers in ambushes when they venture outside their fortified bases.
Counterinsurgency experts have criticized the government's security strategy as too predictable and Humala has had several defense ministers since taking office last year.
Remnant groups of the 30-year-old Shining Path insurgency remain active and smuggle drugs in lawless jungles areas. It was not immediately clear if Friday's attack was led by the Shining Path rebels or someone else.
Last weekend, the Shining Path destroyed three helicopters on the ground belonging to the company that runs Peru's only natural gas pipeline.
In April, they captured 36 natural gas workers in their first large-scale kidnapping since 2003 and said later it was a ruse to lure soldiers into ambushes.
Shining Path's founders were captured in the early 1990s, when Humala fought against them as an army officer in a conflict that killed 70,000 people.
Taking control of the remote valleys in southeastern Peru is crucial for Humala's economic plans. Construction will soon begin on a $3 billion natural gas pipeline that will originate in the area and feed a new petrochemical complex on the Pacific coast.
(Reporting by Omar Mariluz; Writing by Hilary Burke; editing by Peter Cooney and Todd Eastham)