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Thursday, 15 July, 1999, 19:22 GMT 20:22 UK
Peru's Shining Path - who are they?
Abimael Guzman
Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman was captured in 1992
By BBC Americas Regional Editor Robert Plummer

The dwindling band of Shining Path guerrillas, who were led by Oscar Ramirez Durand popularly known as Comrade Feliciano until his capture, are a far cry from the organisation, which in its heyday was the most formidable rebel movement in Latin America.

During the 1980s, the Shining Path, or Sendero Luminoso in Spanish, waged an armed struggle against the Peruvian state in support of its hardline Maoist ideology. Some 30,000 Peruvians were killed in the conflict.

Not only did the rebels win control of large areas of the countryside, but they also struck repeatedly at targets in the Peruvian capital, Lima, giving rise to fears the group would eventually succeed in taking over the country.

President Fujimori
President Fujimori: hard line against the guerillas
After a series of high-profile attacks, the worst single incident came in July 1992, when two car-bombs went off in the middle-class district of Miraflores, killing 20 people and injuring more than 250 others.

Yet just two months later, the authorities dealt a decisive blow to the Shining Path movement, when its founder, Abimael Guzman, was captured in Lima along with six other rebel leaders. He was tried by a military court and sentenced to life imprisonment.

In Mr Guzman's absence, and despite his subsequent call for a ceasefire, Oscar Ramirez Durand spearheaded an underground resurgence of the movement, frustrating President Alberto Fujimori's attempts to declare a definitive victory in the war on terrorism.

Mr Ramirez, alias Feliciano, could only count on the backing of a few hundred rebels, compared to the several thousand who had belonged to the organisation a few years earlier.

Oscar Ramirez Durand
Oscar Ramirez Durand: rebel leader since 1992
This rump faction of the Shining Path was largely confined to coca-producing regions in eastern Peru and no longer had the power to undermine the foundations of the state.

Now, even this much-diminished incarnation of the rebel movement seems consigned to oblivion. Yet the apparent ease with which the army captured Feliciano has prompted one former President, Fernando Belaunde, to ask what took them so long.

Cynical observers have raised the possibility that it suited President Fujimori's interests to keep the threat of insurgence alive and so boost his chances of a third term in office. Presidential elections are due to be held next year.

The dangers posed by the Shining Path have certainly allowed Mr Fujimori to get away with some highly authoritarian behaviour in the past.

Many voters remain grateful to him for restoring order to the country and are prepared to forget his so-called "auto-coup" of 1992, when he dissolved Congress and the judiciary in order to force through changes to the constitution.

Even under this revised constitution, Mr Fujimori's right to a third term in office remains unclear. Moreover, as the 2000 elections draw nearer, the President may find that memories of Comrade Feliciano will fade in the public mind - and with them, his reputation as the man who brought peace to Peru.

The BBC's Stephen Cviic reporting
BBC South America Correspondent Stephen Cviic: "A moment for President Fujimori to savour"
The BBC's Sally Bowen in Lima
Sally Bowen reports from Lima: "Sendero Luminoso has not been a threat for quite some time"
See also:

21 Dec 97 | In Depth
07 Jul 98 | Americas
15 Jul 99 | Americas
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