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Gas Workers Kidnapped, Freed

Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon
Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon

Around dawn on June 9, a group of armed individuals entered a camp near the Apurímac river in Peru, where employees of the Argentine consortium Techint were working on a pipeline that transports natural gas to Peru’s coast from the Camisea gasfields in the Amazon region. The assault took place as three police agents were delivering a load of explosives to the camp; the assailants stole the explosives and seized the three police agents, along with 68 Techint workers, as hostages. Six of the hostage workers were Colombian, one was Chilean and the rest were Peruvian. The Toccate camp is located in Anco district, La March province, in Ayacucho Department.

The kidnappers marched the hostages—and the stolen explosives—to a remote site some six kilometers away. There they made radio contact with Techint supervisors and demanded $1 million in ransom, plus more explosives, radios, clothes and antibiotics. A shipment of food—allegedly for the hostages—was dropped from a helicopter subcontracted by Techint later on June 9. According to some reports, the same helicopter may have also dropped a satellite cell phone, antibiotics and possibly a cash ransom.

On June 10, 31 hours after they were kidnapped, the hostages were freed, unhurt. President Alejandro Toledo first announced they had been “rescued” in an army and police operation which surrounded the kidnappers; he insisted no ransom was paid. It was later clarified that all the kidnappers had escaped (with the stolen dynamite), and police and army troops were now searching for them. Toledo blamed the kidnapping on “remnants” of the Maoist rebel group known as Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).

Answering questions from Congress on June 11, Defense Minister Aurelio Loret de Mola backed away from Toledo’s claims of a “rescue,” confirming that in fact the kidnappers had released the hostages—although only because of pressure from the police and army rescue operation, he insisted. Loret insisted no deal was made with the rebels, and that negotiations between Techint and the kidnappers were only carried out in order to buy time.

Techint executive President Daniel Sammartino also insisted no ransom was paid. But testimony from some of the former hostages and other sources—including audiotapes of the negotiations, obtained by the Peruvian press—suggest that Techint did pay a ransom. Some ex-hostages said the rebels told them they were releasing them because they had reached a ransom deal with Techint. Abandoned by their captors, the hostages said they then walked for two hours back to the Toccate camp, where they found police and army troops waiting. (La República (Lima) 6/11/03, 6/12/03; CNN en Español 6/12/03 from AP, 6/14/03 with info from AP; La Jornada (Mexico) 6/11/03 from AFP, DPA, Prensa Latina, Reuters; Clarín (Buenos Aires) 6/11/03 from EFE, AP, AFP, 6/14/03 from DPA; BBC News 6/11/03; Miami Herald 6/13/03 from correspondent; El Nuevo Herald (Miami) 6/14/03 from EFE)

Ex-hostage Julio Aguilar Mamani told a Lima radio station there were only 15-20 heavily armed kidnappers, about half of them women. The government claims at least 60 armed individuals were involved in the kidnapping. (La Jornada (Mexico) 6/11/03 from AFP, DPA, Prensa Latina, Reuters) Ex-hostages indicated that the rebels said they were from a group called “Nuevo Sendero,” which the rebels said is fighting for social justice. (LR 6/12/03)

On June 13, the Lima daily La República cited a police intelligence official who confirmed that a $200,000 ransom was paid. The official said the money was hidden with a batch of breakfast rations dropped to the kidnappers from a helicopter early on June 10.

A local civilian official from the nearby Techint camp at Chinquintirca recorded a radio transmission from someone claiming to be from the Sendero group, who said the hostages were freed because a deal was reached. The rebel criticized Techint for not providing more jobs to local residents, with pay and benefits equal to what the company’s foreign workers receive. However, the Sendero spokesperson said the pipeline is important for Peru and that the rebel group won’t sabotage it.

A municipal official from Anco district seconded the complaints against Techint, explaining that the company provides foreign workers with better food and other benefits and pays them higher wages—in U.S. dollars. Contrary to Techint’s claims, its foreign employees are not working as technicians but as foremen or security personnel, said the local official. (LR 6/13/03)