The faction of the Shining Path rebels based in the VRAE region of central Peru have moved their center of operations out of the increasingly militarized area, according to reports.
Military intelligence sources told Peru 21 that rebel leaders Victor and Martin Quispe Palomino, known by the aliases “Comrade Jose” and “Comrade Gabriel,” had recently been seen in Bajo Urubamba. The region is located outside the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE), where this branch of the guerrilla group has traditionally operated.
The newspaper reported that Comrade Jose was seen arriving with an armed escort in Bajo Urubamba, coming from Saltipo to the west, and that in August he had given satellite TV equipment to a community in Echarate.
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Bajo Urubamba is located on the eastern edge of the VRAE in Echarate district, in the province of La Convencion, Cusco (see map).
The guerrilla group is facing increasing pressure in the VRAE from the authorities, with 10 new military bases set to start operating in December, and a further 16 planned. The government of Ollanta Humala has declared the region a top priority, and in June announced plans to increase state presence in the area, not only militarily but also through a series of new development projects. It will also add the Mantaro Valley to the zone, rebranding the area as the "VRAEM."
The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) has carried out some high-impact operations in Echarate in recent months, targeting companies working on the Camisea gas pipeline, which runs from gas fields further east in La Convencion. Most notable was the kidnapping of 36 gas workers in the village of Kepashiato in April. They were released soon after, but not before the rebels had killed eight soldiers and police who were on the rescue mission. Echarate only has 30 police officers to cover 17,000 sq kms, as Mayor Jose Rios told press after the abduction, making it an attractive location for the Shining Path. In October the rebels destroyed three helicopters belonging to Transportadora de Gas del Peru (TGP) on the Kiteni airstrip in Echarate.
Another factor driving the guerrillas to the east, deeper into La Convencion, is the growing importance of the Brazilian drug market. The province is located on a main route for transporting drugs out of the cocaine-producing VRAE and into Bolivia, from where they are shipped to Brazil. It is therefore a key strategic region for the Shining Path, which draws significant revenue from protecting cocaine shipments.