Rebels free more hostages in 'Christmas gesture'
Standoff continues; Peruvian officials remain captive
December 22, 1996
Web posted at: 11:10 p.m. EST
LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- Hostages began walking out of the Japanese ambassador's home in Lima Sunday night in what leftists rebels called a "gesture" for Christmas.
Under the gaze of hundreds of waiting newsmen, police and firefighters the hostages -- diplomats and dignitaries -- streamed from the house and boarded buses parked nearby.
Sandro Fuente, a former hostage, used a megaphone to read a statement on behalf of the Tupak Amaru rebels announcing the release Sunday evening.
The rebels inside the besieged building said they would release 225 hostages. The terrorists said the rest -- approximately 115 -- will be released only if their compatriots are released from jail.
Reading the Tupak Amaru statement, Fuente -- Peru's former labor minister -- said, "We are releasing everyone who has nothing to do with the government."
The terrorists urged Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori not to use the military to resolve the standoff and condemned his hardline speech Saturday night.
Peru's foreign minister and former and current anti-terrorism chiefs are among the hostages still being held, said CNN's Lucia Newman.
Events leading up to the release began at about 9 p.m. EST (0200 GMT) when officials drove buses to the ambassador's house. One of the vehicles was said to be an armored bus, raising the prospect that the seize might end with the surrender of the terrorists.
But the statement read by Fuente dashed those hopes and underscored that the grueling drama is likely to continue.
Earlier Sunday, tens of thousands of Peruvians marched to the Japanese Embassy residence to demand that the rebels release their captives.
(672K/17 sec. Peruvian Marchers QuickTime movie)
"I want the terrorists to hear us so that I can have my father back for Christmas," said marcher Jose Untama.
Dressed in white and green to symbolize peace and hope, the protesters chanting "Peace, peace. Freedom for the hostages" were stopped a block short of the besieged residence by riot police around midday. There was no response from within the building.
Pope John Paul II added his voice to the chorus requesting the hostages' release. "I ask that the Lord illuminates the minds and converts the hearts of those responsible for such a deplorable action," the Pontiff told pilgrims in Rome.
The White House declined to comment on the developments Sunday night.
President Fujimori had flatly rejected the demands of the Tupac Amaru guerrillas who seized the residence last Tuesday hoping to secure the release of more than 400 jailed comrades.
Dubbing them "terrorists" in a broadcast Saturday night, the president told the rebels to lay down their arms and let all the hostages go if they wanted to avoid bloodshed.
Reinforcing the hard line, the government refused to allow fuel into the residence for the generator which provided power to the rebels and hostages since electricity was cut off early in the siege. It ignored repeated demands to restore running water and telephone connections.
Red Cross spokesman Steven Anderson said the organization was "quite preoccupied" by the pitch darkness in the residence. "This has to be solved," he said. "The lack of electricity has a heavy destabilizing effect on the hostages and it can be a real security problem."
Reuters and CNN correspondent Lucia Newman contributed to this report..
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