Peruvian police captured 11 Shining Path rebels and freed 10 children thought to be in combat training, President Ollanta Humala said on Friday after a string of military setbacks and a week of anti-mining violence.
The military offensive, which was continuing, was a small victory for Humala, a former army officer who has struggled to stamp out what remains of the 30-year-old insurgency and retake control of a lawless bundle of jungle valleys in south-eastern Peru where the rebels traffic cocaine.
The important thing is that this operation has allowed us to rescue these kids, Humala said on local television in reference to children rebels allegedly kidnap to turn into insurgents. We will continue to gather intelligence to do these surgical strikes with trained personnel to get these kinds of results.
The raid on a jungle camp near San Martin de Pangoa, 450km east of Lima was the army's first sign of success since it was embarrassed in April when rebels brazenly kidnapped and later freed 36 natural gas workers, shot down a helicopter and killed six security agents.
By personally announcing the capture of the rebels, Humala deflected attention away from a week of deadly protests against a 5 billion dollars gold mine proposed by US-based Newmont Mining in the northern region of Cajamarca.
Humala stayed silent for much of this week as five protesters were killed in clashes with police. He was criticized by lawmakers from the left, right and even his own Vice president, Marisol Espinoza, for failing to avert violence in an eight-month controversy over what would be the biggest mine in Peruvian history.
Opponents of the Newmont mine say it would cause pollution, hurt water supplies and fail to generate enough local economic benefits. Humala has backed the project as a generator of thousands of jobs and enormous tax revenues.
Five lawmakers who left Humala's Gana Peru party in the past few weeks over ideological differences have urged Prime Minister Oscar Valdes and Interior Minister Wilver Calle, both former military officers, to quit.
Humala did not say if he would shuffle his Cabinet soon but instead appealed for calm and said he had asked a prominent Roman Catholic leader to mediate the mine dispute.
We profoundly lament the loss of human life ... We also want to be critical of the actions of some police officer who may have erred in their duty to prevent violence, Humala said.
Official data shows at least 15 people have died during Humala's term in protests over natural resources, compared with 174 who were killed in similar circumstances from 2006 to 2011 when Alan Garcia was president.
Hundreds of social conflicts over the spoils of natural resources, as well as a string of brazen attacks by a small but more assertive Shining Path, sunk Humala's popularity rating to below 50% for the first time of his term in June.