LIMA, PERU (AP) – Six soldiers drowned while trying to swim across a river in the Andes to reach a town where protests demanding the resignation of Peru’s president have turned violent, military officials said on Monday.
The bodies of two soldiers who had been missing were located later in the day, raising the death toll from four to six, the Defense Ministry said on Monday afternoon.
“With the location of the remains … the search and recue efforts have concluded,” the ministry said on social media.
Five other soldiers were also suffering hypothermia following attempts to cross the Ilave River on Sunday, the ministry said, adding that it lowered its flag to half-staff to mourn the deceased.
The soldiers were trying to get to the Puno region town of Juli to help secure the area following protests Saturday that turned violent and left five civilians injured and a police station and courthouse on fire. The soldiers, based in the nearby town of Ilave, initially tried to cross the river using a bridge, but it was blocked by protesters, forcing the soldiers to try to swim across at another location in near-freezing temperatures.
The ministry blamed the deaths in part on the “hostile attitude” of the protesters who blocked the bridge.
Samuel Canazas, a farmer and father of deceased soldier Franz Canazas, told La República newspaper that “the usurper president Dina Boluarte was to blame”.