Peruvian army captures Shining Path leader
July 14, 1999
JAUJA, Peru -- Army commandos captured Oscar Ramirez, the top commander of one of Latin America's most violent rebel movements, as he tried to escape through a rugged highland region, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori announced Wednesday.
"I have good news. This morning Feliciano has been captured," Fujimori told local radio station Radioprogramas from Jauja, about 185 miles east of Lima, where he was overseeing the manhunt in Peru's central jungle.
A 1,500-strong army sweep tracked down Ramirez, who went by the name Feliciano, after a two-week manhunt through jungle-cloaked gorges 140 miles east of Lima. Political analysts predicted during the ongoing search that the rebel leader's capture would effectively signal the death knell for his Shining Path rebels, one of the oldest guerrilla groups in Latin America.
The secretive Ramirez 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 its knees in a war that has cost about 30,000 lives.
The capture was also 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.
Intelligence service officials had closed to within about 300 yards of the rebel leader on Tuesday, but the balding 46- year-old escaped across a river and disappeared into the jungle bush, guarded by a few rebels, Fujimori told reporters.
Using fighter jets, helicopters, ground and river troops, an increasingly strong combined force of military and police pinned Ramirez down in a remote area where the Amazon jungle merges with the eastern slopes of the Andes, he said.
With orders from the president to capture the guerrilla alive, security forces formed concentric circles around where they believed Ramirez was hiding and conducted house-by-house searches in tiny villages in the area.
On Tuesday, the security forces battled and overpowered two 20-strong columns of Shining Path rebels, who rushed to the zone to protect their leader. Two rebels died.
Later in the day they captured three women who escorted Ramirez in his escape, leaving the rebel leader with only five guards, Fujimori said.
Ramirez, the son of a retired army general, took control of the guerrilla movement after its founder and leader Abimael Guzman, known as "Presidente Gonzalo," was captured in 1992. Ramirez escaped capture and pulled the weakened rebel movement back into remote jungle regions on the eastern slopes of the Andes.
Since then, the death toll from the group's activities has dropped off to a few hundred a year.
Guzman, who founded the Shining Path in 1970, is serving a life sentence without parole at a high-security prison for guerrilla leaders located on a naval base in Callao, Lima's port.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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