THE WEEK IN LATIN AMERICA

Peru hunts down and captures historic Shining Path leader

"Artemio" may have been betrayed by own comrades

Artemio is being carried on a gurney to a hospital.
Artemio is being carried on a gurney to a hospital.AP

The last of the old-time leaders of Peru's Shining Path guerrilla movement was captured on Sunday by army and police following an intense four-day search in the jungle.

Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, better known as "Artemio," was the Maoist group's last leader, and had been on the run for nearly 30 years. Following his capture in the Huallaga river valley in central Peru, Artemio was taken to a police hospital in Lima suffering from wounds he reportedly suffered during a confrontation with other Shining Path members who tried to turn him in. The US government, which wants him on drug trafficking charges, has offered a reward of up to $5 million for his arrest.

"He's alive, he's being treated," Defense Minister Alberto Otárola told reporters on Sunday. The captured Shining Path leader had suffered wounds to his chest and his hand.

In a video taken by a cellphone and broadcast by the Peruvian television network ATV, a somewhat delirious Artemio, being wheeled on a gurney, can be heard shouting: "I am a commander. I want to fight against Chile."

President Ollanta Humala flew to the town of Santa Lucía, near the place where Artemio was captured, to be informed of the details of the operation.

"Causing chaos"

"We can today tell the country that we have destroyed the terrorists who were operating in Alto Huallaga," Humala said. "Shining Path is not a threat to the country but is just armed remnants causing chaos."

After the 1992 capture of Shining Path's principal leader and founder, Abimael Guzmán, the guerrilla group, which was formed in 1980, practically disbanded. Pockets of Shining Path supporters have been operating drug-trafficking routes for years along the Huallaga river valley. Artemio had been in control of the Huallaga area since 1982.

In an interview last December with the IDL Reporteros website, run by noted Peruvian journalist Gustavo Goritti, Artemio acknowledged that he was defeated and asked the government to negotiate.

But Humala refused. In past years, many of Artemio's top officers have been killed by police.

Some analysts believe that with Artemio's capture, other Shining Path factions operating further south in the Apurimac river valley may try to take control.

Police have also arrested eight women, who they say were Artemio's bodyguards.

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