BOGOTA, PERU - Peruvian special forces rescued 26 children and 13 women, some of whom had been raped and held captive for three decades, when they raided a southeastern jungle camp of the left-wing Shining Path rebel group.
"Many of these children were born there and are the result of rapes carried out on women by members of the Shining Path," Vice Defense Minister Ivan Vega told local reporters earlier this week.
It was the largest number of children rescued from the rebels in a single operation, he added.
The almost defunct Shining Path has not posed a threat to the stability of the government for years, but rebel bands remain active in cocaine-producing areas and occasionally ambush security forces in jungle valleys.
The children rescued in the July 23 raid were aged between one and 14, and some were born and grew up in the jungle camp in the VRAEM region, which takes in the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valleys, local media reported.
Numerous fields of coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine, fill the region's verdant mountain slopes and valleys, a 20-hour drive from the capital Lima, making Peru one of the world's largest cocaine producers.
The captives, many belonging to the Ashaninka indigenous group, were held in 'production camps' where women and children were forced to work in the fields, and some children were recruited into rebel ranks from the age of 13, Vega said.
"We've been here, like this, for 30 years," one of the rescued women told the newspaper La Republica.
Among the adults rescued was a 70-year-old woman who had been abducted 25 years ago from a nunnery, Vega said.
Security forces were told where the camp was by a man who escaped from the rebels a month ago, Canal N television said.
Around 120 soldiers and police took part in the operation, using military helicopters to airlift the captives to safety.
An estimated 69,000 people died in the insurgency launched by the Maoist Shining Path, which was crippled in 1992 when its leader, Guzman, was captured in a middle-class neighborhood in Lima.