LIMA Peru arrested 28 people linked to the political wing of the largely defunct Shining Path insurgency on suspicions they are involved in drug trafficking and terrorism, the interior minister said on Thursday.
The operation marks the first big bust of members of Movadef, a group that calls for the release of Shining Path militants and others jailed during Peru's bloody internal conflict in the 1980s and 90s.
The government believes Movadef is a front group seeking to legitimize and revive the Maoist-inspired Shining Path, whose bid to topple the Peruvian state claimed an estimated 69,000 lives.
Interior Minister Walter Alban said the sweep on Wednesday night was the result of a two-year investigation involving phone taps and undercover agents that established a link between Movadef and guerrillas in the coca-producing Huallaga Valley.
Those arrested include Alfredo Crespo, a key Movadef leader and the lawyer for jailed Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman, and Walter Humala, a folk singer and estranged cousin of President Ollanta Humala.
Movadef, which emerged in recent years and has tried unsuccessfully to register a political party, denied being tied to drug traffickers and called the arrests political persecution.
"We demand the immediate liberation of our organizers and activists," Movadef said in a statement.
It has been years since the Shining Path has posed a threat to the stability of the government, but remnant bands of rebels still ambush security forces in jungle valleys where they are widely believed to coordinate with drug traffickers.
In 2012 rebels kidnapped 36 natural gas workers before releasing them unharmed days later.
The government of President Ollanta Humala, who fought the Shining Path as an army officer in the 1990s, has captured or killed several members of the group's jungle factions since assuming power in 2011.
"We cannot tolerate organizations that agitate against democracy, much less those that promote terrorist acts," President Ollanta Humala said in a radio interview late on Wednesday.
The government did not link the people detained to any past or potential attack, and said the grounds for the arrests were belonging to a terrorist organization, financing terrorist activity with money from the drug trade, and money laundering.
An estimated 69,000 people died in the internal conflict launched by the Shining Path.
The insurgency was crippled in 1992, when its powerful leader Guzman was captured in a middle-class neighborhood in the capital city Lima.
(Reporting by Lucas Iberico Lozada)