Shining Path terrorists have killed a police captain as she took part in an attempt to rescue dozens of hostages seized by the rebels earlier this week.
Nancy Flores Paucar, 32, was hit by a sniper as a helicopter she was co-piloting attempted to land in the Peruvian Amazon to drop off a group of armed officers. Three other officers and their indigenous guide were also wounded in the ambush. In a statement, Peru's Ministry of the Interior described the killing as "a premeditated attack by terrorist criminals with long-range weapons".
The incident happened on Wednesday as several helicopters transported 200 anti-terrorist police to the zone where around 30 Shining Path rebels were believed to be holding the hostages. Those hostages, whose numbers are reported to be up to 40, work for contractors supplying the Camisea gas project, Peru's largest energy project, led by Dallas's Hunt Oil.
Just a week ago, President Ollanta Humala had declared the Shining Path "totally defeated". However, the extremists roared back with a vengeance on Monday when they kidnapped the gas workers from their Amazonian hotel.
The government has now sent 1,500 soldiers to the area in a massive show of force. Nevertheless, Mr Humala, a former army officer, warned: "The easiest thing would be to charge in, but that is not the medicine for this situation, given that there are human lives, innocent people, at stake."
But his administration also rejected calls from the hostages' relatives to pay the $10m ransom that Shining Path is demanding. "The government does not negotiate with terrorists," said the Justice Minister, Juan Jimenez. "The government acts within the framework of the law."
Analysts believe the mass kidnapping and ransom demand – typical tactics for the Shining Path – may be a desperate response to the Peruvian authorities' recent advances against the terrorists. The group has long been unable to launch attacks in Peru's cities but is involved in the cocaine trade in the rugged terrain where the Andes and Amazon overlap. Some 69,000 people died during the civil war with the Shining Path in the 1980s and 1990s.