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Report: Peru rejects rebels' demands to free prisoners

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Fujimori: Top priority is hostage safety

December 20, 1996
Web posted at: 4:00 a.m. EST

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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.

fujimori

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 Japanese ambassador.

Hostage safety is foremost

hostages

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 long standoff.

"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 difficult.

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 Huertas.

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 takeover.

Reuters contributed to this report

 
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