LIMA Oct 9 Five people killed by the army during a raid in the Andean region of Vizcatan last month may have been farmers, not terrorists as the government claims, a top Peruvian human rights group said on Thursday.
"In spite of the advanced state of decomposition (of the bodies), they could be identified because of the clothes they were wearing. Obviously, they could be citizens of the area and not terrorists," said Yuber Alarcon, a lawyer for the group APRODEH.
The case has stirred controversy in a country still haunted by a 1980-2000 civil war, which killed 69,000 people and put civilians in the middle of a conflict between the military and leftist guerrilla groups like the Shining Path.
Alarcon said an additional 11 people were missing following the army's Sept. 14 raid, a claim the military denies.
"It is no secret to anyone that Vizcatan is a complicated, conflict zone," said Defense Minister Antero Flores-Araoz. "All the people who were in Vizcatan were terrorists, narco-terrorists or collaborators."
Government investigators are expected to issue a forensic report on the bodies next week.
President Alan Garcia, whose approval rating has sunk to 19 percent, has sent soldiers to the country's coca-rich regions since August in an effort to destroy what is left of the Shining Path.
The Shining Path largely collapsed in the 1990s after its leadership was captured. Remnants of the group are still active but the government says they have all but abandoned their Maoist ideology in favor of running drugs.
Peru is the world's second largest producer of coca, the raw ingredient in cocaine, after Colombia. (Reporting by Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Dana Ford; Editing by Terry Wade and Xavier Briand)