Amid a ramped-up government campaign to eradicate coca production, a Peruvian soldier was shot and killed during gunfire exchange between army troops and so called "narco-terrorists" during a coca raid on Wednesday.
According to Peru’s Armed Forces Joint Command, Sgt. Clider Jipa Condo was gunned down in the southern region of Cuzco known as the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM) — the main coca growing region in the country.
The battle between military forces and the armed drug traffickers resulted in the seizure of approximately 660 pounds of coca paste — in 31 backpacks — and the detainment of four men. The paste is made from coca plants and, while it can be smoked, in most cases it is eventually turned into powdered cocaine.
Peru’s Joint Command has reportedly sent backup forces to secure the area and nab the other assailants.
The government accuses "narco-terrorists" in the area of being linked to the Shining Path rebels, a Maoist guerrilla group that took hold in Peru during the 1980s and has reportedly left more than 60,000 people dead, most of whom were indigenous.
The group’s presence and influence has waned in the country since the arrest of its revered leader, Abimael Guzmán, in 1992. However, Shining Path maintains an active presence in the VRAEM region, and Peru's government claims that its members have partnered with drug cartels.
Three suspected Shining Path members were killed by military forces earlier this week. "It has been an important operation against the criminal bands in the VRAEM who dedicate themselves to transporting drugs and to extortion," Peruvian President Ollanta Humala said during a press conference after Tuesday's clash.
Thursday’s deadly raid follows a statement from the head of Peru’s drug-fighting agency Devida saying the country was on track to meet its increased goal of destroying 30,000 hectares of coca. Humala’s administration upped the eradication target by about 10,000 hectares for 2014.
“As of yesterday, we had eradicated more than 12,800 hectares. We are almost halfway there, we are on a good path,” Devida’s executive president Alberto Otarola said, according to state news agency Andina.
While efforts move forward to meet this goal, the government has never destroyed a coca crop in the VRAEM region reportedly because of fears that it would illicit a violent response from coca industry players, including farmers, Shining Path members, and drug cartels.
“It isn’t about just eradicating coca crops. The success of this process has been because with the eradication, the state has invested a lot in crop substitution, in the post-eradication,” Otarola said, stressing the government’s focus on crop alternative programs in the coca-centric region.
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