Enrique Castro-Mendivil / Reuters
Peru's President Ollanta Huamala (C) is greeted by workers at the Camisea natural gas project in the Amazon jungle, Cuzco state on April 3, 2012.
Members of Peru’s leftist Shining Path rebel group kidnapped dozens of workers in Peru's natural gas industry on Monday, then freed some hours later, reports said.
A spokesman for Skanska, an international construction company headquartered in Sweden, told msnbc.com that 29 of its employees — all Peruvian nationals — were kidnapped on Monday, and that two women employees later were released. The spokesman, Edvard Lind, said the company could not provide any other detail at this time.
Regional police chief Col. Roland Bayona says the gunmen originally seized 30 Skanska workers overnight Sunday but later freed 23, The Associated Press reported. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.
The kidnapping occurred at Kepashiato in the Camisea gas fields in southern Peru.
The motive for the kidnapping remained unclear, but it was the first large-scale kidnapping by the rebel group in nearly a decade.
The Shining Path is a leftist insurgency founded in the late 1960s with inspiration from China’s Communist leader Mao Zedong. The guerrilla group lost much of its strength after President Alberto Fujimori launched a major offensive against the rebels in the 1990s. It has been nearly a decade since the group conducted a large kidnapping operation.
"Shining Path rebels took them hostage early this morning in the village of Kepashiato,'' an official from the natural gas pipeline company said. "They took them from the hotel where they were sleeping.''
The pipeline, which carries gas from Peru's Camisea gas fields to Lima, is owned by a consortium including companies from Argentina, the United States, and South Korea. Skanksa is building a natural gas compression plant in the area, Lind said.
Neither the government nor Skanska has said whether they had intervened to free some of the workers, Reuters reported.
The leftists were engaged in a bloody battle with Peruvian government forces throughout the 1980s, resulting in a reported 70,000 deaths and human rights abuses on both sides.
The rebel group splintered after the capture of their leader Abimael Guzman in 1992 and many top deputies, destroying the group’s chain of command, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
A couple of factions of the Shining Path continue to be active, generating income through the illegal drug trade.
None had committed a major kidnapping since 2003, Reuters reported. In that case, the rebels abducted 68 employees of an Argentinian company — also doing work related to the gas pipeline — and three police guards.
President Ollanta Humala, a former military officer, has vowed capture the last remnants of Shining Path. In February, government forces caught Shining Path leader "Artemio," also known as Florindo Eleuterio Flores in the Huallaga Valley. He was the last high-ranking figure from the historical core of the insurgency still at large, Reuters reported.
After Artemio's arrest, the government said it would go after rebels in the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers region, where they are led by Victor Quispe.
A high-ranking military official said the army was closing in on a group of rebels at the time of Monday's kidnapping.
"They took the hostages to halt our advance,'' the military official said.
Earlier the BBC reported the rebels had demanded the release of "Comrade Artemio" in exchange for the hostages.
A resident of Kepashiato village told RPP radio that 150 armed insurgents were in the area and about 80 of them carried out the kidnapping, Reuters reported.
In this week’s kidnappings, the workers were seized in a jungle region near the Apurimac-Ene valley, one remaining stronghold of the guerrilla group, according to the BBC.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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