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By Juan Forero
THE SCENE could have been from the 1980s, when civil conflict killed thousands: two flag-covered coffins lowered into the ground as mothers wailed and soldiers in dress uniforms dabbed tears. Peruvians thought they had seen an end to funerals like this one for two young infantrymen killed by Shining Path guerrillas on July 10. But the Shining Path, believed to have been all but eradicated in the mid-1990s, is again active, reviving memories of the bombings and massacres that nearly crippled Peru more than a decade ago. "We had thought Shining Path was completely gone," said Raul Chamorro, 30, a cousin of one of the slain infantrymen, Julio Garcia, as the funeral came to a close. ``No one imagined this could happen."
Shining Path is reappearing in new graffiti, campaigning in Peru's outback and launching attacks that have shaken the country and created fresh problems for the President, Alejandro Toledo, whose Government is increasingly unpopular. The Defence Minister, Aurelio Loret de Mola, emphasised in an interview that clashes between the military and Shining Path have actually dropped, from 20 in 2001 to just six this year.
But the ambush this month on a patrol of marines and army special forces, which killed three other soldiers and two civilian guides, is being called the biggest strike by Shining Path in four years.
It came just a month after the group kidnapped 71 people working on a gas pipeline. They were released unharmed a day later, but the assault showed Shining Path was capable of organisation and coordination. Shining Path fighters, who operate in the largely inaccessible forests and mountains of south-central Peru, are also reported to have occupied rural communities briefly and to be moving in heavily armed columns. Government officials also alleged they were with drug traffickers.
"This is the so-called professional army of Shining Path," said Carlos Tapia, a sociologist who has studied the rebel group for years. "Now, they have the capacity for military action. Before, they did not." Aside from Mr. Toledo's most acerbic critics, no one believes that Shining Path is an immediate, direct threat to the Government. The group has no more than 200 armed followers and, at most, only a few hundred more militants involved in political work in the cities, Government officials say. In its heyday in the early 1990s, Shining Path had nearly 10,000 members.
Then, under the leadership of Abimael Guzman, a former university professor who was captured in 1992, the group set out to reshape the social order. A truth commission set up to investigate the human rights abuses of both the Government and the rebels during nearly 20 years of conflict said recently that 40,000 to 60,000 Peruvians died, far more than initially thought.
After Mr. Guzman's capture, however, the group is believed to have split into two. One faction, allied with Mr. Guzman, is still hoping to negotiate a settlement that could lead to a general amnesty, a proposal rejected by the Government. The other, led by Leonardo Huaman and Victor Quispe Palomino, has opted for armed struggle. Although much remains unknown about the ultimate aim of that faction, Government officials and terrorism experts claim it has hitched its future to coca growers and the drug trade.
This alliance has already translated into more money to buy modern combat weaponry such as Galil and Uzi rifles and crisp new uniforms, experts and Government officials said. A group that even at its height stole provisions today paying recruits up to $200 a month to join, they added.
Once avowedly Maoist, Shining Path now appears to be less ideological and to promise villagers that the killing of civilians is a thing of the past, said Ana Isabel Coral, who runs a government agency that works in conflict areas. But Ms. Coral, a colleague of Guzman when he was a university professor, said she believed that the group was simply repeating the tactics of a generation ago ensuring a measure of civilian support before embarking on a more violent campaign. "They do not want to appear as the Shining Path of before, but to present themselves as populists," Ms. Coral said.
Opponents of the Toledo Government charge that it has been slow to react to a mounting threat. But the Government has announced several new measures to deal with the rebels, Mr. Loret de Mola said, including doubling the number of soldiers in the region. New York Times
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