Four hostages released in Peruvian standoff
December 19, 1996
Web postedd at: 7:00 p.m. EST (0000 GMT)
LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- Four hostages were released Thursday afternoon from the residence of Peru's Japanese ambassador, where a hostage standoff continues with no imminent resolution.
Three Red Cross workers escorted the hostages from the residence, and their identities are not yet known. Dressed in suits and accompanied by police, they were driven away in an unidentified black car through a waiting crowd of journalists and onlookers.
Radio transmissions heard by reporters indicated these hostages were freed by the rebels because they suffered from heart conditions and needed medical attention.
Their release occurred minutes after two loud bursts were heard from inside the residence, where it's estimated 400 residents are being held hostage by members of Peru's Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.
Peruvian Television reported the noises as gunshots, and local television stations speculated that a guerrilla may have fired into the air to silence the hostages or to send some sort of signal.
But the sounds, which startled a flock of birds on top of the residence, may have been related to a power outage in the upscale Lima suburb. The compound was quiet after the noises were heard.
The rebels entered the house Tuesday evening as a party thrown by the Japanese ambassador to Peru was underway. There is still confusion as to how they entered the compound and quickly seized hundreds of dignitaries and diplomats.
A doctor who was allowed inside Thursday said the hostages appeared calm and healthy despite the Tupac Amaru rebels' threat Wednesday to begin executing them one by one.
"They're packed in," said Canadian Ambassador Anthony Vincent, who visited the hostages early Thursday. Vincent estimated about 400 diplomats and dignitaries were inside the residence, where they slept Tuesday night on the floor in cramped conditions.
The U.S. Embassy set up a special hostage crisis center staffed by FBI agents, and Washington dispatched security agents to advise the embassy on protecting the estimated 10,000 Americans in Peru against any broader guerrilla offensive.
Both sides prepared for a lengthy standoff as a commission of four diplomats who were released from the residence Wednesday acted as "a link for communications between the Japanese residence and the authorities outside," Vincent said Thursday.
Michael Minning, a Swiss national of the Red Cross, was heading the negotiations with the guerrillas.
Minning, who has been in regular contact with the rebels since the assault, said the first priority was to continue providing those inside with food and other basic supplies.
"We will address the question of the negotiations later," he said.
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