LIMA (Reuters) - Bounty hunters who help nab two leaders of a Maoist rebel group suspected of involvement in Peru’s cocaine trade will be given rewards of up to $5 million by the United States, the U.S. embassy in Lima said on Monday.
The rewards target Florindo Eleuterio Flores, known as comrade Artemio, who leads a band of Shining Path guerrillas in the Alto Huallaga coca-growing region, and Victor Quispe Palomino, known as comrade Jose, who runs a faction of rebels in the rugged jungles of the Ene and Apurimac River Valleys.
The decision by the State Department to include the two men in its Narcotics Rewards Program comes days after the United Nations said Peru had overtaken Colombia as the world’s top planter of coca — the raw ingredient for cocaine.
The Maoist Shining Path launched a bloody war against the state in 1980. When its founders were captured in the early 1990s, some hardened guerrillas retreated into the country’s jungles and went into the cocaine business.
Peruvian President Alan Garcia has called Artemio and Jose “narcoterrorists.” His administration has struggled to stamp out remnant bands of Shining Path fighters, who have launched a series of ambushes that have killed dozens of soldiers over the past year.
Garcia’s aides have also sought to prevent former members of the Shining Path from forming a political party and fielding candidates in municipal elections this year and general elections next year.
About 500 former members of the group have been released from jail in recent years after serving out their terms.
The U.S. Congress established the rewards program in 1986. Witin Latin America it has been used mostly in Mexico and in Colombia, where members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group have also been put on the list.
Reporting by Terry Wade; Editing by Paul Simao