|Comrade Artemio said the government had not responded to a truce offer in a rare interview last December [Reuters]
One of two remaining fugitive leaders of Peru's once-powerful Shining Path armed rebel group may have been wounded in combat in a remote coca-growing region, the government has said.
Alberto Otarola, Peru's defense minister, told reporters that authorities are not ruling out that the rebel known as Comrade Artemio "may have been mortally wounded" in a statement released on Friday.
"I say it is possible because the operation continues," he said, adding that police and soldiers were searching for him.
Artemio was apparently wounded early on Thursday in the village of Puerto Pizana in the Upper Huallaga Valley, a major cocaine-producing region where the Shining Path is involved in the drug trade, Otarola said.
Otarola said he would join the search as his presence would demonstrate the government's will to shut down the Shining Path.
Nanci Zamora, mayor of the La Polvora district that encompasses Puerto Pizana, told the Associated Press that Artemio sought medical attention early on Thursday in the nearby town of Santa Rosa de Mishoyo.
She said the local emergency medical technician reported that Artemio had gunshot wounds in the chest and leg and that his subordinates took him down the Mishoyo river, a tributary of the Huallaga river.
The police commander in the region, General Vicente Romero, told the AP that his men were seeking the guerrilla chief.
Artemio in December told journalists who visited him in a jungle encampment that he considered his cause lost and was seeking a truce.
He told the journalists that the only way to change the capitalist system was through a socialist government, "but at this moment that is not possible".
The self-described Marxist said he wrote President Ollanta Humala twice but received no response.
Peru's government has refused to negotiate with Comrade Artemio, whose group is a tiny remnant of the Shining Path insurgency that killed thousands of people during the 1980s and 1990s.
The Peruvian government has offered a $350,000 reward for information leading to his arrest while the United States government is offering $5m.
Artemio, whose birth name is Florindo Flores, reportedly commands about 150 fighters.
The Shining Path was one of Latin America's bloodiest guerrilla movements.
Its conflicts with the Peruvian government between 1980 and 2000 left nearly 70,000 people dead or missing, according to government figures.
The organisation declined dramatically in 1992 after the arrest of its leader, Abimael Guzman.
Groups of the Shining Path remain in two coca growing regions of Peru, the Upper Huallaga Valley and the Apurimac and Ene River.
The most aggressive faction, which is hostile to Flores, operates in the Apurimac-Ene valley. Its clashes with the police and the army kill between 20 and 30 people each year.
Its leaders have not agreed to a truce or negotiations with the government.
Shining Path has dwindled from about 5,000 members at its peak to about 300 guerrillas now, according to Peruvian officials. Other reports estimate their current numbers are higher.