Shining Path leader taken without a shot
July 14, 1999
JAUJA, Peru (CNN) -- Army commandos captured the top commander of one of Latin America's most violent rebel movements Wednesday as he tried to escape through the rugged Andes highlands.
"This morning Feliciano has been captured. This is the beginning of the end for Shining Path," President Alberto Fujimori told local radio station Radioprogramas from Jauja, about 185 miles (300 km) east of Lima, where he was overseeing the manhunt for Oscar Ramirez Durand.
Ramirez Durand, who goes by the name "Comrade Feliciano," was the last national leader of the Shining Path insurgency still at large. He was cornered, along with three women rebels, after being pursued by a force of 1,500 commandos for two weeks, and was captured without a shot being fired.
"We have the man," Fujimori said. "His health is fine but he's hungry because he has not eaten for three days. He has been surrounded for various days and the pursuit has been intense."
The secretive Ramirez Durand symbolized the dogmatism and relentless violence of the rebel movement which only a few years ago nearly brought the Peruvian state and its economy to their knees in a war that has cost about 30,000 lives.
The capture was sure to boost Fujimori's popularity. His consistent hard-line stance against rebels since he came to power in 1990 has won widespread approval among Peruvians.
Fujimori, speaking from a military base near where the guerrilla leader was captured, said the detainees would be taken to Lima and held at a high-security prison at a naval base in Callao that holds Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman.
Fujimori said Ramirez Durand would be submitted to a secret military trial and then spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Ramirez Durand took control of the movement in 1992 after the capture of Guzman. While the founder was known as an ideologue, Rodriguez Durand has been considered first and foremost a military leader.
Experts on the Maoist rebellion said the capture was another hard blow to the guerrilla movement, known in Spanish as Sendero Luminoso, but it did not mean the death of the organization.
Ramirez Durand's capture "would have a great impact on Sendero but not like that of Abimael. It would not be the end of Sendero," said Carlos Tapia, who has studied the Shining Path since its inception and authored a book about the rebel movement.
"It is much easier to replace Feliciano in a new terrorist leadership than it was to replace Abimael Guzman," Tapia said hours before the capture.
Before Guzman's arrest in 1992, the rebel movement had the Peruvian government on the ropes, killing village authorities, ambushing army patrols and unleashing deadly waves of car-bomb attacks in Lima.
The Shining Path had as many as 10,000 armed fighters in the early 1990s, but is now believed to have fewer than 1,000 combatants.
More than 30,000 people, including soldiers, rebels and noncombatants, have died in political violence in Peru since the Shining Path took up arms in 1980.
But in recent years the death toll has dropped off to a few hundred a year as the rebels withdrew into unpopulated areas of the jungle hundreds of miles east and north of Lima.
Correspondent Josefina Townsend and Reuters contributed to this report.
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