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Rebel attack kills soldiers ahead of Peru vote

Peru's communist guerrillas have killed two soldiers and a civilian in an attack in a remote coca-growing region. The South American country is voting to elect a new president and members of congress on Sunday.

Six soldiers were also wounded in the Saturday attack, as military officials transported materials for the election, according to Jorge Moscoso, the head of Peru's armed forces.

The officials said the assault was carried out by the members of

the Maoist Shining Path guerilla group,

which was largely dismantled by the state in the 1990s. The organization still has members hiding in the jungle-covered region of the country, famous for its production of coca, the material used for cocaine.

Some 23 million Peruvians are voting to elect a president and the members of congress on Sunday, and the attack appears to be an attempt to sabotage the vote.

But Marian Cucho, head of the National Electoral Process Office, is optimistic that the escalation in violence "will not tarnish the elections."

"This is a sign that more still needs to be done," outgoing president and former military commander Ollanta Humala said Saturday. "Terrorists are no longer a threat to the Peruvian state but they have shown they can still cause harm," he added.

The legacy of the conflict

Conservative presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori is leading the polls. Her father, Alberto Fujimori, commanded an army operation against the Shining Path during his presidency from 1990 to 2000. The former president is currently serving a 25-year-sentence for murdering civilians during the crackdown on rebels.

Some 69,000 people were killed between 1980 and 2000 in the conflict - one of Latin America's deadliest - with the Maoist rebels, according to Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Keiko Fujimori is expected to win the Sunday vote,

but without an absolute majority. She has marketed herself as a candidate who could deal with communist guerillas and drug gangs in a strict manner.

shs/tj (AFP, Reuters)

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