Left shining path militants killed at least 16 people, including two children, in a remote region of Peru known for coca production, and burned some of the bodies beyond recognition, the military said Monday.
Brochures were found at the site of the massacre on Sunday calling on Peruvians not to vote in the presidential elections on June 6, the joint command of the Peruvian armed forces said in a statement.
The military called the killings “an act of genocide” and said the Shining Path had previously described such attacks as a form of “social cleansing.” The statement assured the Peruvians “a safe electoral process”.
The incident occurred in a region called Valle de los Rios Apurimac, Ene y Mantaro (VRAEM) which, according to authorities, produces 75% of the South American nation’s cocaine.
The VRAEM, a mountainous area the size of Puerto Rico, is the center of constant security forces’ operations against remnants of the Shining Path, which police say act as “bodyguards” for drug traffickers.
The Maoist rebel group started one of the deadliest internal conflicts in Latin America in the 1980s. An estimated 69,000 people were killed, according to a truth commission.
The Shining Path began to fade in the early 1990s after founder Abimael Guzman’s imprisonment, and has since built ties with drug traffickers.
Peru will hold elections in less than two weeks, with socialist Pedro Castillo facing conservative Keiko Fujimori. Both candidates denounced the attack.
“I urge the police to investigate immediately and to find those responsible,” Castillo told reporters.
Fujimori said: “We must not allow terrorist groups that want to create fear.”
The United Nations condemned the “murder” of the people and expressed its solidarity with the victims and their families.
“As part of the ongoing election process, we call on all actors to act responsibly and to avoid hate speech, which increases tension,” said a statement from the Lima office.