LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian police have arrested a top commander of the Maoist Shining Path guerrilla group in an operation in which two alleged rebel fighters were killed, local media reported on Wednesday.
Edgar Mejia, also known as “Comrade Izula,” was detained at noon, Marlon Savitzky, a police chief in the Huallaga region was quoted as saying by Peru 21 in its website.
Savitzky said the rebel leader is suspected of leading guerrilla groups in two gun battles with police in the past few years in which 11 police officers and a representative of the attorney’s office were killed.
In Peru’s main coca growing regions, the Alto Huallaga, the Ene and Apurimac River Valleys, police and soldiers often clash with cocaine smugglers with links to the Shining Path group that waged a war against the state in the 1980s and 1990s.
Though most Shining Path leaders were captured and the group no longer poses a threat to the stability of the government, Peru’s army and police consider the coca growing regions a conflict zone and say they have yet to “pacify” it.
Police raids in the area are part of an effort by the government of President Alan Garcia to both stamp out remnant bands of Shining Path fighters and eradicate crops of coca, the raw material for cocaine.
Earlier this year, the United Nations said Peru had overtaken Colombia — which has received billions of dollars in U.S. aid to fight drugs — as the world’s No. 1 coca producer.
Reporting by Patricia Velez; Writing by Emily Schmall, editing by Philip Barbara