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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 13:49 GMT
Peru's violent past
Massacre of rural people in Peru, 1993
Thousands of people were massacred by insurgents
In the late 1980s, a full scale civil war in Peru seemed to be only a matter of time.

Hyperinflation had decimated the economy, and the hardline Marxist Shining Path guerrilla movement seemed poised to seize power from the then president Alan Garcia.

Shining Path - or Sendero Luminoso in Spanish - began as a reform movement in the early 1980s and aimed to create a new social order in Peru by waging an armed struggle against the state.

By the end of the decade it was considered to be the most formidable insurgent movement in South America with an estimated membership of 10,000.

It controlled large areas of the countryside and established a reputation for murder and destruction. About 30,000 Peruvians are believed to have died in the conflict.

Attacks

Urban cells of Shining Path - and another left-wing rebel group, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement - carried out a series of high-profile attacks on targets in the capital.

The worst single incident came in July 1992 when 20 people were killed and more than 250 injured in a car bombing in the middle class district of Miraflores.

Abimael Guzman under arrest, 1993
The arrest of Guzman broke the back of Shining Path

But two months later, Shining Path was dealt a severe blow when its founder and leader Abimael Guzman was arrested along with six other senior rebel commanders and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Over the next five years former president Alberto Fujimori, who had replaced Alan Garcia in 1990, spearheaded a major crackdown against Shining Path.

Hundreds of rebels were incarcerated after Mr Fujimori adopted a range of emergency measures, reducing the movement to a small, powerless faction largely based in eastern Peru.

Former president Fujimori
Former president Fujimori took a hard line against the guerrillas

Splits emerged as some rebels supported attempts by Guzman to negotiate a peace settlement with the government, while others vowed to continue the armed struggle.

By 1994, about 6,000 guerrillas had surrendered under a government amnesty programme. Their apparent defeat and an economic recovery brought a period of stability during the late 1990s.

But the continued existence of Shining Path, albeit in reduced form, prevented Mr Fujimori from declaring a definitive end to the anti-insurgency campaign.

Rebel revival

And since the end of the Fujimori era, there have been signs that the rebel movement has regained momentum in its former strongholds, and is seeking to expand its sphere of influence.

Reports suggest that a slimmed-down Shining Path is fuelling a revival by becoming involved in the highly-lucrative drugs trade, and has become better armed and organised.

Analysts believe Shining Path is exploiting a boom in Peru's coca-producing industry, a result of the apparent success of the United States' drug eradication programme in neighbouring Colombia.

Correspondents say Shining Path has benefited from increased freedom of movement after the recent easing of security measures, and has begun a fresh recruitment drive.

See also:

21 Mar 02 | Americas
29 Jul 01 | Americas
21 Feb 02 | Americas
21 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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