Peru policeman reappears after 17 days in the jungle

Luis Astuquillca's family said there were no words to describe seeing him again

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A Peruvian policeman who survived for 17 days in the jungle after escaping from clashes with left-wing rebels has been reunited with his family.

Luis Astuquillca managed to walk to the village of Pastoquiato after being shot in the leg by Shining Path guerrillas.

He had been part of a police team searching for hostages kidnapped by the rebels when his unit came under attack.

The rebels had told journalists they had killed Mr Astuquillca and another missing policeman.

The search for the second policeman continues.

'Survival skills'

Mr Astuquillca, 22, was deployed to the Cusco region on 12 April to search for a group of 36 gas workers who had been abducted by Shining Path rebels.

His patrol came under attack from the Maoist guerrillas in the Alto Kepashiato area, but Mr Astuquillca and his colleague Cesar Vilqua managed to escape.

A Shining Path leader known as Comrade Gabriel had told journalists that Mr Astuquillca and Mr Vilqua had been "annihilated" by the rebels.

No details are yet known about how Mr Astuquillca survived the following 17 days in the jungle. A statement by the interior ministry put it down to his "skills and survival training".

Mr Astuquillca sustained a bullet wound to his thigh and another one to his hand, but officials said he was in "good shape overall".

Interior Ministry officials said operations in the area would continue until "the final pacification of the area".

Three members of the security forces were killed by Shining Path rebels last week while searching for Mr Astuquillca and Mr Vilqua.

Four more members of the security forces died during the operation to rescue the hostages.

The hostages were released by their captors six days after being abducted in the Apurimac and Ene valleys - the Shining Path's last remaining stronghold.

The Maoist group posed a major challenge to the Peruvian state in the 1980s and early 1990s, but is now reduced to small gangs involved in cocaine trafficking.

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