A Peruvian soldier and five members of the former Shining Path guerrilla, defeated militarily in the 1990s, were killed in a clash in a Peruvian coca-growing valley, the Defense Ministry said Saturday. On Tuesday, a soldier was killed in the same area. In early February, seven policemen were killed in an ambush.

The armed clash, the date of which was not specified in the communiqué of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces, occurred in the district of Vizcatan del Ene (center), during an operation to capture the leader of the remnants of the extreme left guerrillas. Victor Quispe Palomino, alias Comrade José, has not been arrested but other perpetrators have been killed or captured, the statement said.

In the middle of coca country

The district of Vizcatan del Ene in the department of Junin is part of a vast coca-growing area known as VRAEM, an acronym for Valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers, where the army has been fighting drug trafficking gangs and the last militants of the Maoist guerrillas for decades. According to the United Nations, Peru is one of the largest producers of coca leaves and cocaine in the world.

Shining Path, which launched an armed insurgency in 1980, has clashed for decades with armed forces in a conflict that left 69,000 dead and missing, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Almost all guerrilla leaders are dead or imprisoned, but the army estimates that some 200 to 350 former combatants are still active in VRAEM.

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