By FRANKLIN BRICENO, Associated Press
LIMA, Peru (AP) — One of two remaining fugitive leaders of Peru's once-powerful Shining Path rebel group may have been wounded in combat in a remote coca-growing region, the government said Friday.
Defense Minister Alberto Otarola told reporters that authorities are not ruling out that the rebel known as Comrade Artemio "may have been mortally wounded." He said police and soldiers were searching for him.
Artemio, 50, commands about 150 rebels. His real name is Florindo "Jose" Flores and the United States has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
Artemio was apparently wounded early Thursday in the village of Puerto Pizana in the Upper Huallaga Valley, a major cocaine-producing region where the Shining Path is involved in the drug trade, Otarola said.
He offered no details and refused to take questions from journalists in a brief media appearance.
The mayor of the La Polvora district that encompasses Puerto Pizana, Nanci Zamora, told The Associated Press by phone that Artemio sought medical attention early Thursday in the nearby town of Santa Rosa de Mishoyo.
She said the local emergency medical technician reported that Artemio had gunshot wounds in the chest and leg and that his subordinates took him down the Mishoyo river, a tributary of the Huallaga river.
The police commander in the region, Gen. Vicente Romero, told the AP that his men were seeking the guerrilla chief.
Artemio in December told journalists who visited him in a jungle encampment that he considered his cause lost and was seeking a truce.
The self-described Marxist said he wrote President Ollanta Humala twice but received no response.
He told the journalists that the only way to change the capitalist system was through a socialist government, "but at this moment that is not possible."
Peru's government has refused to negotiate with Comrade Artemio, whose group is a tiny remnant of the fanatical Shining Path insurgency that killed thousands of people during the 1980s and 1990s.
Peru is the world's No. 2 producer after Colombia of coca, the basis for cocaine.