(CNN)Peruvian authorities say members of the Shining Path rebel group have killed 16 people, including two children, in a poverty-stricken, coca-growing region southeast of the capital, Lima.
Peru's Shining Path rebel group kills 16 ahead of presidential elections, says military
According to a statement released by Peru's Armed Forces on Monday, the group carried out the killings in a region known as VRAEM (Valle de los Rios Apurimac, Ene y Mantaro) on the night of May 23, burning some of the victim's bodies.
"This type of action [massacre] is called by the terrorist organization as 'social cleansing' and was carried out with firearms," the military statement said.
Shining Path has not claimed responsibility for the attack.
A pamphlet warning people not to vote or to spoil the ballot in the country's second round of the Presidential election on June 6 was also found at the site of the attack, the military statement said.
"Peruvian people: boycott the bourgeois elections, because it is not your way. Do not go to vote. Vote blank. Vote null or flawed," said the pamphlet, which has been shared on local media and social media.
Authorities say they are investigating the motives for the attack.
Peru's interim president Francisco Sagasti said in a post on Twitter on Monday that he has "ordered the deployment of patrols of the Armed Forces and the Peruvian Police in the area, so this terrorist action does not go unpunished."
Both presidential candidates -- Socialist Pedro Castillo and Conservative Keiko Fujimori -- have denounced the attack.
Castillo has previously denied having any link with the Shining Path or Movadef, an affiliated group.
Sunday's incident follows a particularly difficult year for Peru, which is reeling from the highest coronavirus death rate in Latin America per capita. A series of corruption scandals have also left voters disgusted with the political class.
Peruvians first went to the polls in April, where they were asked to choose the country's fifth president in just four years.
Voting is mandatory, but more than a quarter of respondents pollled before the first vote said they intended to leave their vote blank, didn't know who they will vote for, or wouldn't choose any of the candidates, according to an opinion poll published April 4 by the Institute of Peruvian Studies (IEP) for Peruvian newspaper La Republica.
Voter turnout was 70.2% in the first round of votes, according to the National Electoral Office (ONPE).
Sagasti has said that the bloody incident will not affect the upcoming runoff vote. "This does not threaten the holding of the election at all. Members of the National Police and Armed Forces are already being deployed, as they have been during the entire electoral process," he said Monday, according to state news agency Andina.
"The most important thing is that the will of the people —expressed at the ballot box— will be respected," he said.
Shining Path, a Maoist rebel group known in Spanish as Sendero Luminoso, was active in the 80's and 90's but began to fade after its founder, Abimael Guzman, known as Camarada Gonzalo, was captured and sentenced to life in prison in 1992.
The group declared war on the government in 1980, carrying out bombings and assassinations that by official accounts killed more than 30,000 Peruvians during the next 20 years. Another 30,000 Peruvians died at the hands of the government and paramilitary groups in the fight against the group, a government commission said in 2003.
In the countryside of central and southern Peru where the rebels were strongest, the Shining Path waged an assassination campaign against government officials, the heads of state-owned farming collectives, business owners and even peasants who opposed the guerrillas. Political rivals, including other Marxists or leftists, were also not immune.
The group also conducted daring attacks in the capital, Lima, where they blew up electrical transmission towers, causing citywide blackouts, bombed factories and set off explosives near government offices and inside the ruling party's political headquarters. An attack on Tarata, a residential street in Peru's capital, was the group's deadliest assault.