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Rebels seek $10 million ransom in Peru

LIMA, Peru — Shining Path rebels are seeking a $10 million ransom for 40 Peruvian construction workers abducted in a pre-dawn raid at the country's main natural gas field in the Amazon jungle, local officials said Tuesday.

The abducted workers, employees of Skanska of Sweden and the Peruvian company Ransa, and were seized early Monday in Kepashiato, a hamlet of just over 1,000 inhabitants and no police station about 60 miles (96 kilometers) from the Camisea gas fields.

A spokesman for the Swedish construction company Skanska, Edvard Lind, said 29 of the workers were Skanska employees. Nine worked for a subsidiary of Ransa, said company spokesman Victor Melgarejo.

The workers, who had been building a new gas treatment plant, were rounded at about 3 a.m. Monday from their hotels, said Kepashiato's mayor, Rosalio Sanchez.

She said they lingered for three hours, buying groceries from local merchants and summoning about 20 residents to an assembly where they railed against the government and the natural gas industry.

Afterward, the rebels tried to transmit a message on two local radio stations but there was no electricity, she told The Associated Press by phone. They left pamphlets signed "Communist Party of Peru," the Shining Path's official name, before departing with abducted in vehicles, Sanchez added.

"The SUVs (later) returned with a nurse and a female doctor" and the ransom demand, said Mayor Fedia Castro of Convencion, the municipality that encompasses Kepashiato. She said the rebels had demanded a $10 million ransom plus annual $1.2 million payments.

Such mass abductions are rare in Peru, and Monday's kidnapping showed a new brazenness from the Shining Path.

The cocaine-trade funded rebel band is only a small remnant of the fanatical Maoist group that terrorized Peru in the 1980s-1990s. It is believed to number about 300 to 500 fighters and is centered in the Ene and Apurimac Valley region where more than half of Peru's coca crop grows.

In recent months, it has expanded attacks outside that area, including in the adjacent region where Monday's kidnapping occurred.

The United States has offered a $5 million reward for the arrest of its leader, Victor Quispe.

Since 2008, more than 50 Peruvian troops have been killed in Shining Path attacks.

The insurgency has not committed a mass abduction since 2003, when it seized 60 workers of the Argentine company Techint working on a Camisea pipeline.

They were freed two days later, and officials said no ransom was paid.

Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report from Bogota, Colombia