Peru's Boluarte vows to crush 'narcoterrorism' after deadly police ambush

LIMA, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Peruvian President Dina Boluarte pledged a crackdown on "narcoterrorism" on Monday, speaking at the funeral of seven police officers gunned down in an area where drug traffickers operate in alliance with remnants of Shining Path militants.

The officers were ambushed on Saturday as they traveled through the remote Andean and jungle region known as VRAEM, according to the Interior Ministry, an area which is believed to produce around three-quarters of the country's cocaine.

It was the deadliest single attack on police in more than a decade, the ministry said.

"My government has ordered a frontal fight against this alliance of terrorism and drug-trafficking in the VRAEM and throughout the nation's territory," Boluarte said at the funeral. "We will not allow more deaths, more violence."

She emphasized that she fully backs Peru's police and armed forces in this task.

The VRAEM, a mountainous area the size of Puerto Rico, is the center of ongoing security force operations against remnants of the Maoist militant group Shining Path, whom police say act as "bodyguards" for drug traffickers.

The Shining Path first launched a campaign of guerilla warfare intended to overthrow the government in 1980, leading to 20 years of brutal conflict with the armed forces, which left 69,000 dead or missing, according to official figures.

After Colombia, Peru is the world's largest producer of coca leaf and cocaine, according to U.N. estimates.

The police ambush came as Boluarte faces extended protests that have left at least 60 dead in just two months, after her predecessor, Pedro Castillo, was ousted and jailed for illegally trying to dissolve Congress and rule by decree.

Protesters have demanded Castillo's release, Boluarte's resignation, early elections and changes to the constitution.

Boluarte - herself under investigation for protest deaths - called for peace and said her government would continue to work on the "wellbeing of the population."

Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by Leslie Adler

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