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Sendero Luminoso: Insurgency resurgent?

After a long hiatus, the Peruvian Marxist group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) appears to be staging a come-back. The organization carried out two violent attacks against military forces and civilians earlier this month. This was followed by an incursion into a mining camp which netted the militants enough explosives to carry out a renewed bombing campaign.

Spate of attacks

On 9 October, Sendero militants ambushed a convoy of trucks carrying soldiers and civilians in Tayacaja, a province in the highland region of Huancavelica. The attack was apparently well-planned. The four-truck convoy carrying anti-terrorist troops was ambushed while on their way to a base in Cochabamba Grande, after having taken part in a flag-raising ceremony.

Authorities said the convoy was passing through the Apurimac-Ene River Valley (VRAE) in the area of Tintaypunco, Tayacaja province, a key coca-growing region. The guerillas detonated a roadside bomb using a detonation cord, and then opened fire on the stricken vehicles. Those troops not killed in the blast fought the guerillas for hours before they retreated back into the jungle. Casualties include seven civilians and twelve members of the military.

The incident was followed by another ambush in Vizcatan, southeast Peru, on 14 October which killed two more soldiers. Then, on 19 October, some 30 Sendero members invaded a site belonging to U.S.-based metals company Doe Run in the Huancavelica region. The militants stole an unspecified quantity of dynamite, as well as radios, food, and medicine.

A long history

The recent attacks follow a long period when not much was heard of Sendero Luminoso. The organization had achieved notoriety in the 1980s, when some 30,000 people died in direct attacks perpetrated by SL, or in crossfire between the organization and the military.

The Peruvian Government, with the help of American advisors, made dramatic gains against SL during the 1990s, with the capture of the group’s leaders and ideologues. So confident was the Peruvian government in its ultimate victory that in January 2003, Peruvian courts granted approximately 1,900 members—including the imprisoned top leadership—the right to request retrials in a civilian courts.

Meanwhile, the fight on the ground continued. Peruvian officials claim that Sendero still has some 300 active members, located mainly in the cocoa producing regions of the Upper Huallaga River Valley and the Apurimac/Ene River Valley.

Counterterrorist operations were stepped up this past August, when some 1,200 Peruvian troops launched an offensive to uproot the Sendero Luminoso from its VRAE stronghold. At least four soldiers were killed in the offensive.

The operation has not been without controversy, as troops involved in the operation have been accused of forcing families from their homes and killing peasants—including women and children—suspected of links to the guerillas. Ironically, some of the peasants killed were members of local militias armed by the government to fight Sendero militants.

The guerillas involved in the recent ambush are believed to have been pushed out of the neighboring zone of Vizcatán, Ayacucho region, the focus of the army’s August offensive.


The recent Sendero Luminoso attacks, including the mining camp attack which ended without loss of life, are of concern, due to the implications that Sendero is laying in supplies for further hostilities.

Reports of recent Sendero involvement in narco-trafficking and kidnapping for ransom indicate it may have a new source of funding with which to sustain a resurgence. Authorities say that the group has mostly abandoned its Maoist ideology in favor of running drugs. Coca proceeds have allowed the guerillas to rearm, buy new uniforms, and start recruiting again. Recruits may not be that hard to find, as the social conditions which gave gained Sendero Luminoso its popularity live on largely unaltered in the poorest and least developed parts of the country.


It is too early to tell whether the resurgence in the group’s activity is internally motivated, or is in reaction to external pressures. However, it is clear that Sendero Luminoso is setting up to give the government a run for its money.