Peru Says Taking Actions To Free Kidnapped Workers

Peru Says Taking Actions To Free Kidnapped Workers

LIMA -- Peru's government says it is taking the "necessary actions" to free workers who were kidnapped on Monday and are reportedly being held by a splinter group of the Shining Path rebels.

The Interior Ministry confirmed late Monday that employees of contract companies that are working in the Camisea natural gas fields were kidnapped in the community of Kepashiato, located in Cuzco region's La Convencion province.

The ministry didn't say how many workers were kidnapped, however local media reported on Monday that 30 people were initially taken hostage and that 23 have been released. The workers are believed to be employees of construction company Skanska, as well as another company that provides services in the natural gas industry.

"The Interior Ministry and the Defense Ministry have taken the necessary actions to free those that have been kidnapped and capture those responsible for this criminal act," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The lead operator of the consortium that operates the Camisea fields, located in southeastern Peru, is Pluspetrol Peru Corp. Other companies include the U.S.'s Hunt Oil Co., South Korea's SK Holdings Co. (003600.SE), the Tecpetrol unit of Argentina's Techint Group, Algeria's Sonatrach Petroleum Corp., and Spanish oil company Repsol YPF SA (REPYY, REP.MC).

The Shining Path was founded in 1980 and waged a bloody insurgency against the Peruvian state that led to some 70,000 deaths. The Maoist-inspired group was largely defeated with the capture of its leader, Abimael Guzman, in 1992. However, splinter groups still operate in coca-growing regions, where they profit from the illicit drug trade and regularly launch attacks on Peruvian security personnel. Peru is one of the world's top producers of coca.

The last time the Shining Path guerrillas kidnapped workers in the natural gas industry was 2003, when they took about 70 employees from Techint, who were working on a pipeline. Those workers were released a few days later.

Jaime Antezana, an expert on drug trafficking and terrorism in Peru, said he believes the Shining Path kidnapped the workers to seek ransom payments.

"The objective of this kidnapping is not to kill the workers, but I think it is to negotiate," Antezana said during a telephone interview. "The group's main demand is money."

Antezana said the kidnapping shows that the Shining Path remnants are copying a strategy used by Colombia's most powerful insurgency, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The FARC, which is also heavily financed by the cocaine trade, has used kidnapping to collect ransoms and as a tool to pressure the government.

"The fact that this has happened a second time reveals to me that they [the Shining Path] are using the FARC's style," said Antezana.

The FARC, however, recently announced that it would cease kidnapping.

While the Shining Path had thousands of members during the 1980s and 1990s located nationally, the splinter groups are believed to have only 300 fighters today, located in two coca-growing regions.

Fernando Rospigliosi, a former interior minister, said he sees the kidnapping as a sign that the Shining Path has increased its presence in southern Peru from their strong-hold in the coca-growing Apurimac and Ene river valleys.

Rospigliosi said, though, that he does not expect to see a surge in similar incidents. "They are opportunistic," he said.