An armed group briefly abducted 18 gas company workers in the southeastern region of Cuzco and stole equipment from them, the Peruvian military said.

Workers with the Transportadora de Gas del Peru firm were doing maintenance work on a gas pipeline in the Echarate district when they were accosted by 35 "terrorist criminals," the statement said.

During the 40 minutes the workers were retained, the kidnappers carried out propaganda activities and stole communications gear belonging to TGP, the armed forces joint command said.

The Peru.21 daily reported that the attackers painted a hammer and sickle on a helicopter used to transport the workers.

Energy and Mines Minister Jorge Merino told RPP radio the assailants probably belong to the ranks of Martin Quispe Palomino, a.k.a. "Gabriel," who authorities say leads a group of Shining Path remnants in the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, or VRAE, region along with three of his brothers.

Gabriel, meanwhile, has disavowed any affinity with the Shining Path, an insurgency blamed for tens of thousands of deaths in the Andean nation, referring to his group as the "militarized Communist Party of Peru."

Wednesday's incident occurred at a spot six kilometers (four miles) from the town of Kepashiato, where a group of armed men at Gabriel's command kidnapped 36 TGP workers for five days in April.

The operation to rescue the captives resulted in the death of 10 police and soldiers, prompting questions about the role of the security forces in the Cuzco region.

The Maoist-inspired Shining Path launched its uprising on May 17, 1980, with an attack on Chuschi, a small town in Ayacucho province.

A truth commission appointed by former President Alejandro Toledo blamed the Shining Path for most of the nearly 70,000 deaths the panel ascribed to politically motivated violence during the two decades following the group's 1980 uprising.

The guerrilla group, according to commission estimates, also caused an estimated $25 billion in economic losses.

The group became notorious for some of its innovations, such as blowing apart with dynamite the bodies of community service workers its members killed, or hanging stray canines from lampposts as warnings to "capitalist dogs."

Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman was captured with his top lieutenants on Sept. 12, 1992, an event that marked the "defeat" of the insurgency. EFE