Report: Peru rejects rebels' demands to free prisoners
Fujimori: Top priority is hostage safety
December 20, 1996
Web posted at: 4:00 a.m. EST
In this story:
LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- Peru's president vowed Thursday not to bow to
rebel demands that he free their jailed comrades in exchange
for the release of about 375 hostages.
The rebels' primary demand has been that the government free
300 members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA)
who are in Peruvian prisons.
But President Alberto Fujimori decided "to not accept the
notion of putting in liberty any terrorist imprisoned in a
Peruvian penitentiary," according to a one-page statement
faxed to local news media early Friday.
According to the statement, Fujimori made the decision and
his Council of Ministers approved it Thursday. There was no
explanation for the delay in disclosing the decision.
The statement was Fujimori's first direct public reaction to
the crisis, which began Tuesday night when the rebels seized
hundreds of hostages at a party at the lavish home of the
Hostage safety is foremost
In a letter written to U.S. President Bill Clinton that was
read late Thursday on local television, Fujimori promised
that hostage safety will be his top priority, as both sides
at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima braced for a
"I want to assure your excellency that I am occupying myself
permanently and jointly with my team to achieve a solution as
soon as possible to this crisis, the principal objective
being the safeguarding of the health and life of those
who are inside," Fujimori wrote.
In an attempt to end the standoff, Ecuadorian President
Abdala Bucaram late Thursday said he was ready to grant
asylum to the terrorists.
"We have stated clearly that if we can be of help, providing
the Peruvian government asks for it, we would accede to
that," Bucaram said, without elaborating on what kind of
asylum he would grant.
The MRTA group Thursday afternoon freed four hostages for
medical reasons, and they allowed Red Cross workers to ferry
food, water and other supplies to the 375 remaining captives.
The remaining hostages are from at least 28 countries. Six
are Americans, according to a diplomatic source who spoke on
condition that he not be further identified.
Earlier, the terrorists released about 170 people, mostly
women, including Fujimori's mother and sister.
The hostages were healthy and calm, although short of toilets
and unable to bathe, Red Cross doctor Marc Cortal said.
"The hygienic situation is quite serious," Anderson said,
adding that the Red Cross had been trying to get portable
toilets into the building.
High tech and savvy
High-tech and savvy, the MRTA curry a Robin Hood image and
aspire to emulate Che Guevarra, the Latin revolutionary and
aide to Cuba's Fidel Castro.
Still, many leaders of the Tupac Amaru -- which is smaller
than Peru's Maoist Shining Path movement -- are in jail. Its
chief, Victor Polay, was captured in June 1992 and is serving
a life sentence. Other top commanders conceded defeat and
surrendered in July 1993.
But that hasn't stopped the well-armed and generally educated
insurgents from staging a series of high-profile attacks
against Peru's conservative government. None, however, has
been more audacious than the one this week.
The MRTA have split up the remaining hostages, including many
diplomats and dignitaries, into separate rooms. The white-
columned residence they occupy is hidden from street view by
10-foot walls topped with an electric fence.
The U.S. and Britain have sent advisers seasoned in hostage
negotiations to Peru, but experts cautioned that a military-
style assault to free the hostages would be extremely
Fujimori in a bind
Clearly, Fujimori is in a bind, facing conflicting pressures
from international leaders. The U.S. advised against any
concessions to the terrorists, while Japan cautioned against
any risky attempt to rescue the hostages.
More than 40 Japanese businessmen and 17 Japanese diplomats
remain trapped. "We are thinking first and foremost of the
hostages' safety," Japan Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda said
before arriving in Lima Thursday.
The terrorists have threatened to kill the hostages one by
one, issuing a statement demanding the release of hundreds of
their comrades, money and safe passage to the Amazonian
jungle in eastern Peru.
"We are clear: the liberation of all our comrades, or we die
with all the hostages," a rebel who did not give his name
told a local radio station. "If the government does not give
in, we will begin to execute them."
There are growing indications that Peruvian officials are
preparing for a standoff. The local phone company Thursday
installed public phones near the site, making it easier for
police and negotiators to communicate.
The only officials meeting with the rebels Thursday were four
diplomats freed the day before. "We're sort of like hostages
on parole," said Ambassador Anthony Vincent of Canada, who
returned to the residence to talk with MRTA leader Emilio
It remains unclear how the terrorists entered the
ambassador's residence and quickly overwhelmed guests
celebrating the birthday of Japanese Emperor Akihito.
There are reports they disguised themselves as waiters,
carrying champagne and food. But some Peruvian media quoted
police as saying they entered the house by blowing a hole in
an wall of an adjoining house and scaling another section of
a wall from a clinic parking lot.
Police Thursday held for investigation 14 of the 25 white-
jacketed waiters freed by the terrorists shortly after the
Reuters contributed to this report
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