At least 14 people, including two children, have been killed in a remote region of Peru known for coca production, the military said on Monday, less than two weeks before voters head to the polls for a presidential runoff.
Peru’s police chief, César Cervantes, told local television channel N that at least 18 people were killed, while the military said in a statement there were 14 victims.
“I strongly condemn the murders of these 14 people,” interim Peruvian President Francisco Sagasti tweeted on Monday, saying that he had ordered army and police patrols in the area “so that this terrorist act will not go unpunished”.
The killings took place in a community in Vizcatan de Ene, which is in an area of the Peruvian Amazon that authorities believe is being used as a hideout by remnants of the Shining Path movement that battled the government in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Valle de los Rios Apurimac, Ene y Mantaro (VRAEM) mountainous region is where 75 percent of cocaine is produced in the South American country, according to authorities. Police accuse Shining Path of acting as “bodyguards” for drug traffickers.
“It is likely there will be more deaths,” Cervantes told RPP radio on Monday.
The military accused Shining Path of being responsible for the killings, which it described as “an act of genocide”. But its statement also assured Peruvians of “a secure electoral process”.
The United Nations condemned “the murder” and expressed its solidarity with the victims and their families.
“In the framework of the ongoing electoral process, we call on all actors to act responsibly, avoiding hate speech that increases tensions,” the UN office in Lima said in a statement.
Peru is slated to hold elections in less than two weeks, pitting leftist frontrunner Pedro Castillo against right-wing Keiko Fujimori.
Castillo has been gaining ground on Fujimori in advance of the June 6 vote, securing 44.8 percent support in a survey released on Sunday by the Institute of Peruvian Studies (IEP), compared with 34.4 percent for Fujimori.
But many Peruvians expressed frustration and weariness before the first round of voting – which saw Castillo and Fujimori get 19 percent and 13 percent support, respectively – as the country has experienced years of political instability.
Peru has also been hit hard by COVID-19 and a coronavirus-related economic downturn.
On Saturday, protesters marched in Lima and other major cities toting banners and shouting the slogan, “Fujimori never again.”
Fujimori’s father, former President Alberto Fujimori, is in prison on corruption charges.