* “Comrade Gabriel” smiles as he discusses strategy on TV
* Says objective of kidnappings was to kill troops, police (Adds quote, details)
LIMA, April 18 (Reuters) - Peru’s first major hostage-taking in a decade was a ruse to lure soldiers into a remote jungle valley and kill them in ambushes, said the Shining Path rebel who led the kidnappings of 36 gas workers.
Martin Quispe Palomino said in television footage broadcast Wednesday the rebels suffered no casualties but killed six soldiers and police over the weekend. The rebels released the workers on Saturday, six days after they were taken hostage near a natural gas field.
The rebels also shot down a helicopter that was flown by local police and owned by the United States, which funds anti-drug work in Peru, the world’s top cocaine exporter.
Quispe Palomino, who is known as Comrade Gabriel and had never before shown his face to the media, scoffed at promises by President Ollanta Humala to eliminate the remnant band of Maoist rebels.
“We asked for a ransom but we knew they (the government) wouldn’t pay. We did it so that these hopeless reactionaries would send in the armed forces and we could annihilate them. This was our objective,” a smiling Quispe Palomino said in an interview broadcast on TV channel Panamericana.
Two gun-toting bodyguards stood by him in a patch of heavily-mined jungle as he spoke to reporters that included the Peruvian newspapers La Republica and El Comercio.
Quispe Palomino said it will become easier to ambush soldiers if the government tries to reinforce security along Peru’s main natural gas pipeline, which carries fuel from the Camisea fields in the jungle to Pacific coast.
“Let them militarize the pipeline,” he said. “We’d have the upper hand and would annihilate the armed forces, right?”
Prime Minister Oscar Valdes, who like Humala is a former military officer, said the army’s deployment of 1,500 security agents to pressure the rebels to free the hostages was “impeccable” despite the casualties.
He said the government refused to pay the rebels’ ransom demands, which included $10 million and bundles of dynamite.
“We won’t permit any piece of our territory to be a no man’s land where the terrorists do what they please. The government’s position is very clear. He said President Humala has ordered the rebels be captured “dead or alive.”
Humala, who has spent much of his time trying to calm debilitating protests against mining and petroleum projects since taking office in July, donned camouflage fatigues twice in recent days to show his commitment to quashing the rebels.
In February, police caught Shining Path leader Florindo Eleuterio Flores, the last high-ranking figure from the Shining Path’s historic core, who went by the nom de guerre Artemio.
Artemio ran a band of rebels in the Huallaga Valley, one of the country’s main coca-growing regions. The Quispe Palomino band operates farther south in a treacherous bundle of jungle valleys known as the VRAE, also heavily planted with coca.
Holdout bands of rebels, who are now too weak to threaten the government, went into the cocaine-trafficking business after the founders of the group were captured in the early 1990s.
The Shining Path launched a war to overthrow the state in 1980, and some 70,000 people were killed in the conflict. In 2003, the group captured 70 workers employed by Argentine company Techint who were building the Camisea gas pipeline. (Reporting by Terry Wade and Teresa Cespedes; Editing by Doina Chiacu)