Security forces in Paraguay have killed a man described as the third in command of the EPP guerrilla organization, a significant blow to the small organization.
Bernardo Bernal Maiz, alias "Coco," was shot dead in a confrontation with soldiers, after some 15 Paraguayan People's Army (EPP) rebels assaulted a Brazilian owned property in Paso Tuya, in the north Paraguay province of Concepcion, reported ABC. The remaining rebels allegedly kidnapped the son of the people in charge of the estate during their escape, ABC said.
When the army arrived on the scene, Bernal Maiz shot at two military vehicles, killing a vice sergeant, before being gunned down by security forces, reported ABC. According to Ultima Hora, the EPP members ambushed the vehicles while they were en route to the property. A second EPP member was also killed in the shootout.
Interior Minister Francisco De Vargas said intelligence reports indicated Coco was the EPP's third in command, and called the deaths a "hard hit" on the structure.
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Gerardo Sosa, the Concepcion police chief, told Radio Oasis: "'Coco' Maiz is an old member and one of the heads of the criminal group, who commanded the cell located in the Curuzu de Hierro and Azotey regions."
ABC reported he was just 20 years old when he died, making him one of the EPP's youngest leaders.
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Despite the small size of the EPP -- which some have estimated to have under 100 fighters and possibly as few as 20 -- it has long been a major focus of the government, gaining notoriety with the 2004 kidnapping and murder of a Paraguayan president's daughter, though the group was not formally constituted until 2008.
Given the group's small size, Bernal Maiz's death is likely a significant blow to the EPP. Ultima Hora suggested it was the most significant killing of a rebel since 2010.
He was wanted by authorities alongside his brother Antonio Bernal Maiz for the 2012 murder of their aunt, Eusebia Maiz. The two men allegedly killed her for collaborating with authorities, decapitating her with an explosive after shooting her. Coco also participated in the EPP's most high profile kidnapping, that of rancher Fidel Zavala in 2009, suggesting he has been deeply involved with the group at least since his mid-teens.