The death toll of an attack in a remote, mountainous region of Peru has risen to 16, authorities have said as the country’s interim president promised there would be “no impunity” for those responsible for the killings.
The Peruvian authorities have blamed the deadly violence on a dissident faction of Shining Path, a Maoist movement that battled the government in the 1980s and 1990s.
“We are doing all we can to deploy the police and the military in a way that we can efficiently combat this plague,” interim President Francisco Sagasti told reporters on Tuesday,
“We know this is a rough terrain with many ravines that the narco-terrorists know very well.”
The villagers – including at least two children – were killed at San Miguel del Ene in a coca-growing valley where members of the Shining Path group operate.
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.
The attack took place less than two weeks before Peruvians are set to go to the polls in a presidential runoff that pits left-wing frontrunner Pedro Castillo against right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori.
Al Jazeera’s Mariana Sanchez, reporting from Lima, said many were not surprised by the attack, as similar acts of violence have been perpetrated before past elections. “Analysts say they are meant to scare voters from supporting left-leaning candidates,” Sanchez said.
Alerted to the crime by neighbours in the early hours of Monday, police found the bodies – some of them burned – in two bars on the banks of a small river.
Sagasti has ordered police and soldiers to the area and a specialised “terrorism” unit has been tasked with investigating the killings.
“We beat them in other parts of the country many years ago, but (the Shining Path) continues in just one place and we hope to eradicate terrorism very soon with decisive action from the armed forces,” Sagasti said.
Both Castillo and Fujimori condemned the attack, as did the Organization of American States (AOS), which said it rejected “any type of intimidation against citizens”.
“In the framework of the ongoing electoral process, we call on all actors to act responsibly, avoiding hate speech that increases tensions,” the United Nations office in Lima also said in a statement on Monday.