|In a rare interview last December, Artemio said he had offered the government a truce but got no response [Reuters]|
The top leader of Shining Path rebel group was alive but badly wounded, Peru’s military said, retracting an earlier statement that he had been found dead.
“He is alive and receiving the appropriate medical attention,” said Defense Minister Alberto Otarola, correcting an earlier statement on Sunday from President Ollanta Humala about his death.
Peruvian officials had announced on Friday that Comrade Artemio, whose real name is Florindo Flores, was shot the previous day in the village of Puerto Pizana in the Upper Huallaga Valley.
A local official there, Nanci Zamora, told reporters the rebel leader had sought medical attention for gunshot wounds in his chest and leg early on Thursday. After seeking medical treatment, other fighters reportedly took their leader into hiding.
Peruvian anti-drug police had tried for years to arrest Artemio and the United States two years ago had offered a multi-million dollar reward for information leading to his capture.
Artemio told journalists who visited him in a jungle encampment last December 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 to 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 had offered a $350,000 reward for information leading to his arrest while the US government had offered $5m.
Artemio reportedly commanded about 150 fighters.
Dreaded guerrilla movement
The Shining Path was one of Latin America’s feared 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.
Humala, who fought against the Shining Path when he was a military officer in the 1990s, has vowed to step up efforts against what the government calls “narco-terrorists”.
His predecessor, former president Alan Garcia, failed in his attempt to stamp out several hundred rebels who have refused to surrender their arms.