Lima, Mar 6 (EFE).- Six soldiers have died while trying to cross the Ilave river after fleeing from anti-government protesters in Puno in southern Peru, officials said Monday.
The divers of the Captain of Ports department worked all day to recover the bodies of five of the deceased after finding the first one on Sunday.
The body of the last corporal reported missing, identified as Carlos Quispe, 22, was located deep in the river and still in possession of his rifle and heavy equipment.
“With the location of the remains of Army Corporal Carlos Quispe Montalico, the search and rescue work started after the unfortunate events that occurred in the Ilave River concluded,” the defense ministry said on Twitter.
“Honor and glory to our brave soldier and his five comrades!” the ministry added, along with the names of the deceased.
The body was transferred to the city’s morgue, which also has the remains of the other five soldiers who drowned in the river while trying to flee from the demonstrators who far exceeded them in number.
Sources in the area told EFE that initially the residents of Ilave rejected the soldiers’ presence in the city, but, after seeing that they were drowning in the river, they helped them.
The sources added that the locals gave water, dry clothes and coca leaves to the soldiers and also took them to nearby hospitals.
Moreover, as some of the soldiers were from the same community as the protesters, they were welcomed by their relatives who were concerned about their health.
Hours earlier, the defense ministry had confirmed the deaths of corporals Franz Canazas Cahuaya, Alex Quispe Serrano and Elvis Pari Quiso, and soldiers Elías Lupaca Inquillas and Percy Castillo Pongo.
The head of Peru’s Southern Military Region, General Jhonny León Rabanal, described the soldiers’ deaths as “murder” and reminded the people of Puno that they were also “their children.”
“How are they going to kill them like that?” he told Canal N.
On Sunday, the Joint Command of the Armed Forces had said that the soldiers were part of a patrol going from Ilave to Juli, where anti-government protesters torched a police station on Saturday.
León said Monday that, when the soldiers came to reinforce the security of barracks and other police facilities in Juli, a patrol decided to cross the river to “avoid a confrontation” with locals.
The general added that, when the members of the patrol arrived at the river, they were “pressured, stoned,” although he also indicated that there were other people who helped the wounded or affected.
“It’s not like the officer is going to order them to go into the river to drown…they have been attacked,” he said in response to some local media reports.
There have been roadblocks and a halt in activities in the region of Puno, where Juli and Ilave are located, since January when residents took to the streets to demand the resignation of President Dina Boluarte.
Authorities’ suppression of the protests has triggered violence in which 18 people were killed in the neighboring city of Juliaca.
The government has declared a state of emergency in Puno, where the armed forces have been put in charge of internal order, with support from the national police.
Defense Minister Jorge Chávez sent an official letter on Monday to the chairman of the Congress’ Defense Commission, Diego Bazán, requesting to appear before the working group “in order to report on the unfortunate events that occurred in Puno.” EFE