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Peru's embattled government, which has been struggling with leftist guerrilla groups for at least 13 years, experienced a major breakthrough last week when leaders of the pro-Cuban Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement surrendered and urged diehard members to do the same. After nine years of futile fighting, the Tupac Amaru rebels now realistically consider themselves defeated.

An encouraging development, it puts Peru one step closer to the peace it has been seeking for so long. The persistent fighting has made it virtually impossible to improve life in Peru for the average citizen. It has been estimated that at least half of the country's 22 million people lack such needed services as running water, electricity and sewage outlets.Andres Mendoza, the group's northeastern commander, admitted the group had only a few bands of guerrillas left and predicted they would disintegrate within months. He was one of four top commanders to have surrendered in the past two weeks.

Considering the group's shaky status, the move was wise. President Alberto Fujimori had pledged to destroy them this year. Instead, they are eligible to be protected by the government's repentance law, which provides amnesty for revolutionaries who give up and cooperate with the military.

Unfortunately, the surrender does not affect the much larger and more dangerous Shining Path, a Maoist group, which has an estimated 10,000 combatants, as compared with the Tupac Amaru's 500.

So far the Shining Path, which has been functioning since 1980, has not been seriously hurt and has carried out about the same number of attacks this year as last year. The Shining Path has focused most of its efforts on the predominantly Indian countryside, whereas the Tupac Amaru has concerned itself with urban guerrilla warfare.

Tragically, more than 30,000 people, mostly civilians killed by soldiers or rebels, have died in overall rebel-army fighting in the past 13 years. About 600,000 people have escaped the countryside for the safety of the cities since then.

It can only be hoped that The Shining Path will follow the good example of the smaller group, recognize the errors of their ways and abandon their much longer crusade for the good of the whole country.