Peru: more than 300 families displaced by "counter-terrorist" operation

Local human rights groups report that more than 300 families have been displaced from their lands by the Peruvian armed forces' Plan "Excelencia 777," launched earlier this month to take control of Vizcatán zone, considered a stronghold of narco-trafficking and "terrorist" organizations in the Valley of the Apurímac and Ene Rivers (VRAE).

Nolberto Lamilla, director of the Asociación Paz y Esperanza in Ayacucho, the regional capital, told Peru's independent network Coordinadora Nacional de Radio (CNR) that the displacement "has been denied by the Armed Forces in repeated official statements, in spite of the denunciations that we have filed."

Lamilla said some of the families have returned to their homes despite their fears, after several nights exposed to the elements in camps in the mountains. He said intimidation of the residents continues, and denied that all those affected are involved in narco-trafficking or terrorist activities.

Lamilla pointed to seven peoples detained by the army last week on suspicion of collaboration with the Sendero Luminoso guerillas. He insisted they were only directors of Tambopacocha agricultural community, in Pocacolpa village, Ayahuanco district, Huanta province, Ayacucho region. "According to what we know, none of the seven have any link to the terrorists," he said.

Pocacolpa community leader Raúl Águila Chavarría told CNR the seven were detained while searching in a forested area for the body of Isidro Velásquez Flores, who disappeared from the village days earlier and is believed killed. Ironically, one of the detained is Orestes Chocce Cuba, leader of the Tambopacocha self-defense committee, established to protect the community from the guerillas. Also arrested were the brothers Reinaldo Velásquez Santos, 24, and Sergio Velásquez Santos, 19, sons of the slain man. Chavarría said the detained had received permission from the military at their base in nearby Sanabamba to search for the body in the area. (CNR, March 23)

The guerrillas killed at least 26 people in Peru in 2008, including 22 soldiers and police officers—the bloodiest year since the late 1990s. In 2007, the latest year for which data is available, coca cultivation in Peru increased by 4%, the highest level in a decade, according to the United Nations. Estimated cocaine production rose to a 10-year high of some 290 tons.

The New York Times' Simon Romero, traveling in the region, interviewed villagers at Río Seco who told him the army had occupied the community last year, accusing them of being "subversives" and shooting four residents dead at close range—including a woman who was five months pregnant. Two children, ages 6 and 1, disappeared and are believed dead. Four months later, the guerillas arrived, accusing the villagers of collaborating with the military. They abducted the village leader, who has not been seen since. (IHT, March 17)

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