LIMA, Peru (AP) — The ambush killing of what Peruvian authorities say is almost certainly half the Shining Path's four-man leadership comes amid a territorial expansion by the cocaine-fueled insurgency and, analysts say, is not apt to cripple it.
DNA tests were being done Tuesday seeking to confirm that among the dead were "Comrade Alipio," the band's military chief, and "Comrade Gabriel," the youngest of the three Quispe Palomino brothers who led an estimated 500-strong remnant of a rebel movement that terrorized Peru in the 1980s and 1990s.
Shining Path "will now try to retool, because they always have young guys who want to advance," said Peru's armed forces chief, Adm. Jose Cueto.
He said an explosion apparently triggered by bullets during a firefight and an ensuing conflagration killed the two rebels Sunday night along with Alipio's security chief, a man in his mid-20s. The bodies were burned beyond recognition.
About 15 navy special forces commandos accompanied by police had been lying in wait for the rebels outside a house where Shining Path kept explosives in a hamlet in the Llochegua region of the Apurimac and Ene river valley, Cueto said.
He said the ambush capped a manhunt of "various months" that employed human intelligence and radio intercepts as well as electronic surveillance, on which he would not elaborate.
Analysts said the blow's effectiveness will depend on the military's ability to follow up in the hostile environment of that Peruvian region, which has in the past few years become the world's single biggest cocaine-producing valley.
Expert say Peru has now surpassed Colombia in coca cultivation and likely cocaine production, too.
Sunday's killings are the biggest blow to Shining Path since 1999, when the group's No. 2 leader, Comrade Feliciano, was captured, said Jamie Antezana, a security expert.
A splinter faction in the coca-growing Upper Huallaga valley was dismantled last year with the capture of "Comrade Artemio," who was sentenced to life in prison in June for crimes including terrorism and drug trafficking.
But "Alipio," whose real name is Alejandro Borda Casafranca, was far more influential and was a "bloodthirsty" veteran strategist who will be difficult to replace, security expert Pedro Yaranga said.
Antezana said Sunday's blow comes as the organization's influence is spreading north to the jungle state of Loreto and south to Puno, which border's Bolivia at Lake Titicaca.
"This is the moment (for the military) to get on the offensive" against a band that has killed about 100 government troops since 2008, mostly in ambushes, he said.
The two surviving Shining Path leaders, Victor and Jorge Quispe, are not military men but have gained considerable influence by spreading their cocaine wealth through a sparsely populated region of dense jungles and rugged hills.
The U.S. State Department has offered a $5 million reward for Victor Quispe, who it says runs several cocaine labs in addition to taxing production by others.
Alipio and Gabriel had apparently alienated some locals, however, by destroying heavy equipment last month used in a road-building project after extortion money went unpaid.
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