A soldier died in a firefight with an armed group over the weekend in Peru's Valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers, or VRAEM, the Armed Forces Joint Command said.

Sgt. Tito Ramirez Padilla was killed Sunday during a counterinsurgency operation staged by special forces troops in Mazangaro, a town in the central region of Junin.

The soldier was caught in the crossfire during a firefight, the joint command said in a statement.

A suspected "criminal terrorist" carrying a firearm was captured in the area on Saturday, the Armed Forces Joint Command said.

The Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers Special Command, or Vraem, has been ordered to step up its operations to capture the individuals involved in the soldier's killing, the joint command said.

The VRAEM is a remote jungle area that includes Ayacucho, Cuzco, Junin and Huancavelica regions.

The Shining Path guerrilla group's remnants operate in the region, staging attacks on the security forces.

The rebels have joined forces with drug cartels and producers of illegal coca, the raw material for cocaine, officials say.

The government has made the elimination of the Shining Path's remnants a priority.

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.

Peru is the world's second-largest cocaine producer, with potential estimated output of the illegal drug at about 300 metric tons. EFE