Peru captures wounded Shining Path rebel leader

LIMA (Reuters) - The most important leader of Peru’s leftist Shining Path insurgency has been captured by security forces after being shot in a remote jungle rife with drug trafficking, President Ollanta Humala said on Sunday, announcing his first major victory against what remains of the rebel group.

"Comrade Artemio," one of the top leaders of Peru's Shining Path guerrilla group, is seen at a camp in Huallaga valley in the Amazon jungle of Peru in this photo taken on December 2, 2011 and released to Reuters on February 11, 2012. REUTERS/IDL Reporteros/Handout

Artemio, the nom de guerre of Florindo Eleuterio Flores, was seriously wounded and receiving medical attention, Humala said.

The rebel boss led a remnant group of several hundred guerrillas who went into the cocaine trade after the founder of the Maoist insurgency was imprisoned in the 1990s - all but ending a bloody war against the state that killed nearly 70,000 people.

Though the rebels no longer pose a potent risk to the stability of the state, Artemio still claims allegiance to jailed Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman.

“We can tell the country today that the terrorists in the Huallaga Valley have been defeated, having captured alive Artemio,” Humala said at a military base in the jungle.

Humala initially had said Artemio was dead.

Artemio was wounded early on Thursday and suffered a punctured lung and a severe wound to one of his hands that caused heavy bleeding.

Defense Minister Alberto Otarola said special forces attacked Artemio but gave no details about the operation. One local media outlet said Artemio had been shot by one or more members of the Shining Path who conspired with the government to turn against him.

After the shooting, some of Artemio’s aides took him to a medical clinic and a nurse who was forced at gunpoint to bandage his wounds later said he was mortally wounded. His aides fled with Artemio as army helicopters chased them, but eventually they abandoned him on a riverbank, too weak to go on.

Peruvian anti-drug police tried for years to arrest Artemio and the United States two years ago offered a multimillion dollar reward for information leading to his capture.

Peru is the world’s top grower of coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine.

Humala, who fought against the Shining Path when he was a military officer in the 1990s, has vowed to step up efforts to catch what the government calls “narco-terrorists.” His predecessor, former President Alan Garcia, failed to stamp out several hundred rebels, who have yet to surrender their arms.

“With this, I think we can now begin to pacify the Huallaga,” Humala said referring to the major cocaine trafficking area.

Humala’s approval rating rose 7 percentage points to 54 percent in January after he shuffled his cabinet to give it a more law-and-order bent and to crack down on protests against big mining projects.

In December, the reclusive Artemio emerged briefly from hiding to ask the government for a truce and for amnesty after years of fighting. His pleas were rejected and government officials said they would hunt him down.

Besides the Shining Path group in the Huallaga Valley, another faction of the rebels is active in a knotted bundle of river valleys in southeastern Peru known as the VRAE, which is the world’s most densely-planted coca-growing region.

Security analysts say the group in the VRAE no longer espouses Maoist ideology and is basically a criminal enterprise engaged in the drug trade.

Reporting By Terry Wade and Teresa Cespedes; Editing by Christopher Wilson