Eighteen people died in a massacre in a remote coca-growing region of Peru, the national police said, reviving memories of the country’s brutal left-wing insurgency, just weeks ahead of presidential elections.
The murders, one of Peru’s worst atrocities in decades, occurred in the town of San Miguel del Ene, the head of national police, Gen. César Cervantes, told local television on Monday.
Police officers are on their way to the town, which is eight hours from the closest police base, to investigate the crimes, he said.
Local media reported that pamphlets were found with the bodies that are attributed to a dissident faction of the Maoist rebel group, the Shining Path, which had terrorized the Peruvian countryside before being brutally put down by security forces in the 1990s by the authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori.
The mountainous region around San Miguel del Ene, a sparsely populated, forested area known for cocaine production and trafficking, is believed to be the last significant operating area for Shining Path remnants.
The massacre could shake up Peru’s political landscape just two weeks ahead of the country’s highly charged presidential vote, which has pitted Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the now-jailed Mr. Fujimori, against Pedro Castillo, a radical left-wing teachers’ union organizer.
Mr. Castillo’s opponents have sought to portray him as a Shining Path sympathizer who would plunge the country back into the chaos of the insurgency. Mr. Castillo has denied the charges and has sought to play down his party’s Marxist economic proposals since emerging as the leading candidate in April.
The latest polls show Mr. Castillo still slightly ahead in the race, though his lead has steadily shrunk in recent weeks, putting Ms. Fujimori within striking distance of victory in most national surveys.
The pamphlets reportedly found on the massacre victims called for residents to boycott the vote and called Ms. Fujimori’s supporters traitors.