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Red Cross official named hostage negotiator in Peru

Captives reportedly in good condition, but no end to standoff in sight

December 19, 1996
Web posted at: 3:00 p.m. EST (2000 GMT)

In this story:

LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- An International Red Cross official, Michel Minning, was appointed Thursday as chief negotiator with Peruvian rebels holding hundreds of hostages at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima.

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Minning was present when members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement seized their hostages late Tuesday, but has been allowed to come and go in his capacity as an intermediary between the hostage-takers and the Peruvian government.

There has been no indication that the rebels holding a dozen ambassadors and hundreds of other dignitaries have carried out their threat to begin executing their captives.

The rebels are demanding the release of 300 jailed comrades, changes in government policy, money, and safe passage to the Amazonian jungle.

Early negotiations

Earlier Thursday, Canadian Ambassador Anthony Vincent, who was among the hostages released on Wednesday, re-entered the residence with a Peruvian diplomat and spent about half an hour talking with the rebels.

When they emerged, Vincent said they were passing messages between the government of President Alberto Fujimori and the rebels.

He said negotiations would resume later Thursday, but stressed that he couldn't elaborate out of concern for the hostages' safety.

U.S. participation

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The U.S. Embassy in Lima set up a special hostage crisis center manned 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.

In Washington, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said U.S. policy was against making concessions to hostage-takers, but he said it was important that "lines of communication remain open." icon (454K/21 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

'Very tranquil'

None of the guests taken hostage during a party at the Japanese ambassador's house Tuesday night had been killed, and "it's very tranquil" inside, according to Red Cross doctor Marc Cortal, who helped deliver water, medicine and sandwiches to the residence Wednesday night.

"We spoke with people, collected messages for their families," he said early Thursday at a police line near the two-story residence that is part of a spacious, walled-in compound.

The hostages total about 400 people, informed sources told CNN. They are being held in separate rooms guarded by guerrillas with hand grenades.

The number of rebels inside the compound was estimated by various witnesses as between 10 and 23.

Reports: Rebels dug tunnel

The standoff began Tuesday night. Members of the Cuban-inspired guerrilla group posed as waiters, carrying hors d'oeuvres and champagne, to gain access to the Lima home of the Japanese ambassador during a reception to celebrate the birthday of Japan's emperor.

Peruvian television said that the rebels had also rented the house next to the ambassador's and had dug a tunnel under the wall that surrounds the Japanese compound.

The Lima newspaper, La Republica, said the uniformed rebels entered the compound through the tunnel, carrying automatic rifles, rocket launchers, and grenades.

Around 8 p.m. the rebels attacked, setting off explosions and exchanging gunfire with police for almost an hour. Two hostages and a rebel were reported wounded.

The rebels released about 170 people, most of them women and elderly guests, early in the standoff.

Correspondent Susan Candiotti in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.  
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