35 Maoist Rebel Leaders Jailed in Peru’s Capital : South America: Propaganda material and membership lists are seized. Raids are called harsh blow to guerrillas.
Anti-terrorist police raided 25 safehouses of the Maoist guerrilla movement Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and arrested 35 senior leaders in the harshest blow to the group in the past decade, President Alan Garcia said Monday.
Garcia told reporters that the raids also produced evidence that Abimael Guzman, founder of Sendero Luminoso, recently had been at one of the houses, described as the movement’s headquarters for metropolitan Lima.
Guzman, a former university professor known to his followers as President Gonzalo, has not been seen since Sendero Luminoso began its brutal war in May, 1980, and some analysts had said they believed he was dead.
Interior Minister Augustin Mantilla said of the police raids: “No other event can have the magnitude of what has been achieved in this opportunity.”
The arrests come just days before a presidential run-off election to choose Garcia’s successor. The continuing guerrilla war, in which an estimated 18,000 people have been killed, has been a central theme in the race between Mario Vargas Llosa, a staunch critic of Garcia, and agronomist Alberto Fujimori.
The raids were carried out Friday night and Saturday in various Lima neighborhoods after a three-month investigation, police officials said.
Among the 35 people arrested were Elvia Zanabria, described as a central committee member of Sendero, and Sybila Arredondo, widow of Peruvian writer Jose Arguedas. Arredondo had been arrested twice before but released for lack of evidence.
Garcia said police also seized documents revealing the names of 250 other Sendero members. Reporters were shown letters from people wishing to sign up.
The president said the raids were particularly important “because of the level of the people captured, who without doubt constitute a fundamental nucleus of the terrorist organization.”
Interior Minister Mantilla showed journalists personal belongings of Guzman, including his eyeglasses and sleeping pills. The material confirmed that Guzman is alive but in poor health, Mantilla said.
The raiders netted about three tons of documents, including quantities of posters, pamphlets and other propaganda material, and one of the 25 houses contained what apparently served as Sendero’s printing press. The alleged headquarters in the middle-class Monterrico district contained dozens of paintings of Guzman, some of which appeared to be recent. They showed a clean-shaven man with short hair and glasses. There were several red silk Communist flags and books with notes written by Guzman.
Authorities brought out 28 of the detainees, who did not speak apart from one man who said between coughing fits that he had been tortured.
Recent news reports have suggested that Sendero is undergoing an internal split, with one branch seeking a political accord and others resolved to step up the guerrilla war. The movement has scored successes in the Upper Huallaga Valley, Peru’s main coca-growing region, and retains strength in the mountain highlands.
In recent months, peasants in the interior have formed numerous self-defense organizations, often armed with little more than sticks and spears, to fight back against the rebels. Human rights groups have complained of increasing abuses by the Peruvian army in its campaign against Sendero, while noting that the guerrillas themselves are guilty of constant rights abuses.
Lima, the capital, suffers repeated power blackouts because of Sendero attacks against power pylons.