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30 May, 2009 04:41

Peru’s guerrillas conscript child troops

Heavily armed boys have been filmed bolstering the ranks of Maoist guerrillas. Indoctrinated children are part of the Shining Path’s plans for drug-trafficking-funded resurgence.

Peru has been shocked by the transmission of a film of children brandishing weapons as members of the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) guerrilla movement. The platoon was led by a boy who was approximately 10 years old.

The film, shown on Peruvian television channel Frecuencia Latina (Sunday, May 24), shows the training of 17 pre-teen children armed with automatic weapons and wearing military fatigues.

The guerrillas’ jungle camp, where the film was shot, is in the remaining heartland of the rebels, 200 miles (320 km) in the mountains southeast of the Peruvian capital Lima. It is thought that the filmed rebel camp was in the valley of the Apurímac and Ene rivers, the last refuge of the guerrillas.

Having described the use of child soldiers as “cowardly” on Thursday, May 28, Peruvian Prime Minister Yehude Simon explained his plan to Congress for removing the threat.

Children used to kill soldiers

Prime Minister Simon stated that there had already been several Shining Path attacks on the army by children, as well as women.

He continued: “You cannot arm a boy. To stain the hands of a boy with blood is a terrifying and cowardly act.”

There are reports of children as young as seven being conscripted and indoctrinated by the Maoist group hidden in the Amazonian jungle. On the video, they can be heard chanting: “Viva Marxist-Leninism, Maoism, principally Maoism for the world proletarian socialist revolution.”

By the age of 15 and still not fully-grown, the boys may already be veterans of the conflict with the state. In April, in an ambush on a military patrol, one of the Senderista rebels was only 11 years old. Arí Zevallos – a survivor of the attack – reports one of the 15 soldiers killed had his life taken by the boy on the orders of one of his officers.

Disgust from human rights groups

The use of child soldiers has produced outrage from the Peruvian Asociatión Pro Derechos Humano (Human Rights Association). Francisco Soberón, association director, described the practice as an “outrage”. He said the government had the responsibility to “recover them, not to stigmatize, but to re-educate and rehabilitate them.”

This is not the first time that the Shining Path has been caught using child soldiers. In the early 1990s, 153 boys – mainly orphans – were recruited, trained and used against the government and local population.

The rise, fall, and potential rise again

The militant Maoist organization was set up in the late 1960s by philosophy professor Abimael Guzman. Between 1980 and 2000, the Shining Path’s war with the government resulted in 69,000 dead or disappeared, largely members of the indigenous populations it claimed to be fighting for.

It had ruthlessly controlled large parts of rural Peru and boasted approximately 5,000 fighters in the late 1980s. The group’s power has since waned, the armed struggle to establish a Maoist state has been militarily weakened, its leaders arrested and its ideology confused by links to narcotrafficking.

Recently, increasing links to ransom-taking and the booming coca industry suggest the movement is raising funds for an attempted resurgence. The use of children in its ranks suggests that the group is returning to a policy of forcible conscription. Prime Minister Yehude Simon said: “We have to wake up and realize that the Shining Path is not defeated.”

Jonathan Stibbs for RT