Authorities believe that a rebel group was behind the recent killing of eight soldiers in northern Paraguay in a deadly ambush that reveals the enduring security threat posed by the small but recalcitrant guerrilla army.
Interior Minister Francisco de Vargas said the soldiers were conducting a routine patrol near the northern municipality of Arroyito on August 27 when they were ambushed with explosives and gunfire, reported BBC Mundo. The attack killed eight members of the Joint Task Force (Fuerza de Tarea Conjunta - FTC), a police and military unit created to combat the Paraguayan People's Army (Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo - EPP).
The EPP is active in Arroyito, and authorities suspect the Marxist rebel group is responsible for the attack, reported Reuters.
"Experience tells us that these terrorist criminals generally attack by placing explosive artifacts that are activated when vehicles pass by," de Vargas said. "It is very probable that this is what happened."
According to MercoPress, initial reports suggested that the soldiers had died as a result of the blast, but it was later determined that some were killed by gunshots to the head.
On Twitter, Presdient Horacio Cartes expressed sympathy for the families of the "martyred heroes," and promised the "terrorists" would pay for their crimes.
Sentidos pésames a familias de héroes mártires del cobarde atentado de terroristas. En su memoria, culpables pagarán.
— Horacio_Cartes (@Horacio_Cartes) August 27, 2016
"Sincere condolences to the families of heroes martyred from the cowardly attack by terrorists. In their memory, the guilty will pay," the president's message reads.
InSight Crime Analysis
It is rare for any illegal armed group to kill eight soldiers in a single ambush. But that's especially true for a group like the EPP, which is thought to number no more than 150 fighters -- and perhaps as few as 30. The group has only killed approximately 50 people since it began operating in the late 2000s, according to the BBC.
The EPP has nonetheless proven difficult to neutralize. Despite its diminutive size, the group has carried out several kidnappings and attacks on infrastructure in recent years. The EPP secured a $500,000 ransom following the well-publicized kidnapping of teenager Arlan Fick in April 2014, and the guerrillas still have at least three hostages in their custody.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay
Corruption may be at the heart of the security forces' inability to protect northern Paraguay from guerrilla attacks. In August 2015, FTC spokesperson Alfredo Jonas Ramirez Acosta told local media that elements of the force were passing along intelligence information to the EPP. "We can't have the element of surprise if we're also giving warning" to the EPP, Ramirez said. He was removed from his post later that day.
The government's lackluster campaign to combat the EPP contrasts sharply with its spirited efforts against the guerrilla splinter group Armed Peasant Association (Asociación Campesina Armada - ACA). The ACA broke off from the EPP in 2014, but its founder and several of its subsequent leaders were killed the following year, likely spelling the end of the ACA as an independent group.