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Peruvian Rebels Kill Two Police in Drug-producing Region Ahead of Vote

FILE - Counternarcotics officers walk in a clandestine airstrip strewn with boulders, in the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys, or VRAEM, the world's No. 1 coca-growing region, in Junin Peru, Sept. 19, 2014.

Insurgents in a cocaine-producing region of Peru on Friday ambushed police officers tasked with safeguarding voting materials, killing two and wounding five others in the latest violent attack ahead of local elections, authorities said.

The rebels - part of a remnant band of the Maoist-inspired Shining Path, an insurgency that once threatened to topple the Peruvian state - attacked a four-vehicle convoy carrying 28 officers in the region of Ayacucho, police said.

Peru's electoral office, the ONPE, said the attack aimed to thwart Sunday's poll in Ayacucho, a region part of a swath of jungle valleys knows as the VRAEM, where more than half of the Andean country's cocaine is produced.

The police officers were being deployed in an attempt to ensure the safe transport of voting materials along remote roads.

Shining Path is widely believed to take part in drug trafficking in the VRAEM.

In recent days, Shining Path insurgents have scattered pamphlets in local towns in the VRAEM that read "no to elections," said Peruvian security analyst Pedro Yaranga.

The pamphlets also carried pictures of two of the group's key fighters who were killed last year by security forces, he said.

ONPE encouraged the region's residents to turn out in large numbers on Sunday.

Shining Path, while no longer a serious threat to the Peruvian state, has killed more than 67 police and military officers in recent years.

The insurgents' latest attack comes amid a spike in violence ahead of the nationwide elections for local and regional posts.

Two mayoral candidates in coca-growing towns have been killed in past weeks and the 11-year-old son of a third has been kidnapped, local media has reported.

Peru is considered the world's top coca and cocaine producer, according to the United States and United Nations.

It has registered more than 10 attempted assassinations of electoral candidates in the past year.

The National Jury of Elections (JNE), the body charged with overseeing the legality of the electoral process, has identified 141 potential flashpoints where violence could break out on Sunday, a significantly higher number than in previous local elections.