Peru officially silent on hostage crisis
Japan, Peru hold discussions
December 20, 1996
Web posted at: 9:45 a.m. EST (2145 GMT)
In this story:
LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- On Friday, as hundreds of hostages began
their third day of captivity, the government of Peruvian
President Alberto Fujimori had yet to make its first official
comment on the crisis at the Japanese ambassador's residence.
Rebels from the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA)
have demanded the release of about 300 jailed comrades.
Some Peruvian news organizations reported Friday that
Fujimori had decided not to meet that demand, but there was
skepticism about the source of the information -- a one-page,
poorly typed, unsigned fax.
The Red Cross has now taken over the lead role as go-between
for the rebels and the government, its workers passing
through police lines to ferry fruit, bread, ham and cheese to
the rebels and hostages.
"The situation inside is difficult. There is overcrowding,
it is very hot," Red Cross official Sergio Natarajan said
Friday after visiting the hostages with a doctor and a nurse.
"Among the illnesses are diabetes, ulcers, heart problems and
The hostage crisis began Tuesday night when about two dozen
rebels seized hundreds of guests at a party at the Japanese
ambassador's house. They have released nearly 200 hostages,
mostly women, but about 380 men still are being held.
In the street outside the residence, crowds held a
candlelight vigil through the night.
A one-hour emergency meeting was held in Lima between
Fujimori and Japanese Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda, who
arrived Thursday to help with negotiations.
The embassy residence is legally on Japanese territory,
meaning Fujimori would in theory need Tokyo's approval for
any assault on the well-fortified building.
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 remaining captives from
at least 28 countries.
High tech and savvy
High-tech and savvy, the MRTA curry a Robin Hood image and
aspire to emulate Che Guevara, 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.
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
Correspondent Susan Candiotti and
Reuters contributed to this report.
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