Peru Detains Suspect In Slaying Of Journalist

By: Drew Benson, Associated Press Writer

(AP) Anti-terrorism police have detained a suspect in the 1989 murder of American journalist Todd Smith, who was killed while investigating links between guerrillas and drug traffickers in the Peruvian jungle.

Police captured Pedro Roberto Villacorta on Sunday in Tumbes, 625 miles northwest of Lima near the Ecuadorean border, police Lt. Armando Rodriguez told The Associated Press on Wednesday by telephone from Trujillo.

Police declined to give details other than to say that Villacorta is suspected of participating in the murder and that his name is believed to be an alias.

Smith, a 28-year-old reporter for The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune, had come to Peru on vacation in 1989 to investigate ties between Shining Path rebels and drug traffickers.

Media reports at the time said Smith was abducted at gunpoint while waiting for a small plane to take him out of the Upper Huallaga Valley, a region known for growing coca, the main ingredient in processing cocaine.

Smith’s body was found on Nov. 22, 1989, on the outskirts of the jungle town of Uchiza, 245 miles northeast of Lima. A sign found on his body indicated the killers mistakenly took him for a U.S. drug enforcement agent.

Another man, Shining Path guerrilla Jose Antonio Manrique, was convicted of Smith’s murder in 1993 and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The Peruvian Press and Society Institute alleged in a 1994 report that seven people were involved in the murder: four who abducted him and three drug traffickers who ordered the killing.

The Shining Path launched its campaign to overthrow the government and install a communist state in 1980. The group’s activity and membership dropped off significantly following the arrest of founder Abimael Guzman in 1992.

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