Peruvian security forces have rescued 54 adults and children, mostly members of the Ashaninka indigenous group, who had been held by the Shining Path armed group in a remote jungle region, government officials have said.

Anti-terrorism police chief Jose Baella said on Saturday that some of the adults were kidnapped between 20 and 30 years ago from Puerto Ocopa and nearby towns, at a time when the rebel movement was still strong.

The people were found by a special forces unit comprised of soldiers and police during helicopter-borne missions on Friday and Monday, he said.

Some of those rescued have been reunited with relatives they had not seen for decades.

Baella said the abducted women were used to produce child soldiers for the Shining Path and grow crops for them. The oldest of the 34 children rescued was 14-years-old.

"These children and the captive mass had been abandoned and were on their own, very far from the place where the columns and the camps of the rebels and their children are located," he said.

The rescued group was living in various camps under canopies in thick jungle, in a place called Sector V in the Satipo province of Junin state, officials said.

Weakened armed group

Two defectors from the Shining Path, who were raised in the camps, had led authorities to them, and a total of 70 people have been rescued from such camps in the past year, said Baella.

Independent security expert Pedro Yaranga said the rescue was not a serious blow to the drug-trafficking Shining Path remnant that operates in the area, but does show how weak it has become.


Related: Peru: Searching for the missing decades after war


Analysts estimate the Shining Path's strength at no more than 200 fighters.

The armed group has been seriously weakened in recent years with the capture of top commander "Artemio" in 2012, and the killings of two top cadres the following year in a security force ambush.

The Shining Path's last refuge borders Peru's main cocaine-producing region, the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valley.

Last year, the group's two top leaders - brothers Victor and Jorge Quispe Palomino - were indicted in the US on charges including conspiracy to commit narco-terrorism.

The Shining Path, a Maoist group, launched armed operations against the state in 1980. 

About 70,000 people were killed between 1980 and 2000 as the government battled the Shining Path and a rival leftist armed group, the Tupac Amaru movement, according to Peru's independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Source: AP