Peru police kill Shining Path commander in drug zone

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LIMA, Nov 27 (Reuters) Police killed a commander of the Shining Path insurgency and arrested eight guerrillas in a coca-growing region in Peru, officials said today, after clashing with the group for the third time this month.

Epifanio Espiritu Acosta, who used the alias JL, was shot before dawn in Aucayacu, 236 miles (380 km) northeast of the capital Lima in the mountainous Andean region of Huanuco, where he was in charge of a small group of guerrillas.

''There was a shootout with terrorist forces and in the combat Epifanio Espiritu Acosta died,'' Interior Minister Luis Alva told reporters. Espiritu was the most important aide to ''Comrade Artemio,'' the insurgency's leader, Alva said.

Remnants of the Shining Path, a Maoist group that led a bloody rebellion until its supreme leader, Abimael Guzman, was captured in 1992, have largely abandoned their ideological struggle in recent years and gone to work for drug traffickers in Peru, the world's No 2 cocaine producer after Colombia.

Two of the eight members of the group detained today were wounded and police said they seized a cache of weapons.

Suspected members of the Shining Path have killed up to 14 anti-narcotics workers since President Alan Garcia took office in July 2006, apparently to protest government drug raids.

Earlier this month, Garcia extended a state of emergency, allowing police and the military to intensify raids in some coca-growing regions.

Officials say the Shining Path has small but active groups in the country's main coca-growing areas, with total membership of about 400.

Reuters AK VP0025

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