Official Peru Report Details Up to 4,000 'Disappeared'

Reuters -- 17 November 2000

by Alistair Scrutton

LIMA - About 4,000 Peruvians, generally Andean farmers forced at night from their homes and tortured and shot by soldiers, have ``disappeared'' since 1980 in a war with leftist guerrillas, an official report said Friday.

In Peru's first official report on the ``disappeared,'' the state human rights office said most of the victims were suspected Shining Path rebels kidnapped and murdered by the army and police in the remote and poor highlands.

``It (the report) shows there was a deliberate policy of disappearances by the security forces,'' said Gino Costa, deputy head of the ombudsman's office, whose report calls for a ``truth commission'' to be set up to investigate the crimes.

The report adds official weight to human rights groups who have documented widespread cases of how soldiers, often wearing ski masks, raided villages to detain and kill suspected rebels, dumping their corpses in mountain ravines or jungle valleys.

The report was two years in the making and was compiled with information from both judicial authorities and human rights groups. While reports have been done on ''disappearances,'' this is the first that used state archives.

Guerrilla wars fought against the government by Shining Path and the smaller Revolutionary Tupac Amaru Movement (MRTA) caused about 30,000 deaths and $25 billion in infrastructure damage since 1980.

Costa said an official figure of 4,022 disappearances could vary and not all the cases could be verified. His office is looking into over 2,000 more cases of alleged kidnaps and murders.

Peru's armed forces killed thousands of people, mainly poor peasants in isolated mountain villages, during the war with the Maoist rebels, according to human rights groups. The report documented over 500 executions during the war.

Grim Figures

Nearly half the ``disappeared'' were Indian highland farmers aged between 15 and 25. Another 138 victims -- including six babies -- were under 14, the report said. Another 14 percent were students.

The Shining Path also carried out a violent campaign, openly massacring thousands of villagers, many clubbed or stoned to death, whom they suspected of collaborating with the government. Often they kidnapped children to swell ranks.

But ``disappearances'' by the rebels were relatively rare, with only 50 cases, according to the report.

About a quarter of the disappearances occurred under President Alberto Fujimori, who came to power in 1990 when killings were at a peak, according to the report.

The president is popular in Peru for defeating guerrillas and the Shining Path was mostly destroyed after the 1992 capture of its leader Abimael Guzman.

Public awareness of the ``disappeared'' is strong in neighboring Chile, which has documented many abuses, and Argentina, where the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have sought information on the fates of their kidnapped children from the 1976-83 military dictatorship.

But in Peru there are few details of the whereabouts of the victims of political violence and few military officers have been tried for abuses. The report urged the government to probe the whereabouts of suspected mass graves in the highlands.

``For the most part the victims were poor peasants outside the spheres of justice'' Costa said.

In 1995, Fujimori's government passed a law granting amnesty to military officers responsible for rights abuses, causing widespread street protests by Peru's opposition.

While the MRTA has given up the armed struggle, the Shining Path is now limited to small guerrilla bands in the jungle.