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HOSTAGE STANDOFF

Frustration Mounts as Stalemate Continues

Peru: U.S., other nations send in teams of security experts. Barricaded rebels release four captives but continue to hold hundreds of VIP prisoners from dozens of nations.

December 20, 1996|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LIMA, Peru — As diplomats and security experts from the United States, Japan and other nations converged here Thursday to help resolve the hostage standoff at the Japanese ambassador's residence, leftist guerrillas released four more of their hundreds of captives.

Still, there was growing anxiety among diplomats of the two dozen nations that have citizens being held hostage by the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement about the lack of communication by the Peruvian government regarding the negotiations.

"All of our diplomatic colleagues feel a sense of frustration that we are not getting more information from the government about what they are doing and how they are doing it," a Western diplomat said.

The government's almost total official silence on the crisis results from the secretive, sometimes authoritarian style of President Alberto Fujimori, who relies on a handful of close advisors, according to political analysts and diplomats.

"It is a very personal style," commentator Fernando Rospigliosi said. "Nobody says anything. Nobody has shown their face in this crisis. He is not accustomed to negotiating."

Foreign Minister Francisco Tudela, whom Rospigliosi called one of the best negotiators in the Fujimori administration, is one of the many prominent political figures among the hostages who were seized Tuesday night at a celebration of the birthday of the Japanese emperor.

While there was a broadcast report that Fujimori has written President Clinton, assuring him that the hostages' safety is his top priority, Peruvian officials have had no comment about published stories that deals are being considered to ease the crisis by releasing some guerrillas from Peruvian prisons in a partial amnesty.

In the letter to Clinton released Thursday evening, Fujimori said his principal objective is "safeguarding . . . the health and life of those who are inside."

The negotiations Thursday were being led by Peru's education minister through the mediation of the Canadian ambassador, who was released by the guerrillas Wednesday, and a Red Cross official.

The talks produced results at 6:02 p.m., when the barricaded guerrillas allowed four men to leave the fortress-like compound in the wealthy San Isidro district.

The freed hostages were identified as the chairman of Nissan Co. in Peru, who left in a wheelchair, a Red Cross official and two elderly Peruvians of Japanese descent.

After spending half an hour in the ambassador's residence talking to the guerrillas and hostages, Anthony Vincent, the Canadian ambassador, said: "The discussions were cordial. The hostages were in good condition. People are behaving magnificently. There has not been a single incident."

Meanwhile, security and anti-terrorism experts from a variety of U.S. agencies arrived in Lima. Their ostensible mission is to review security at the U.S. Embassy.

"We have sent some security experts to assist the ambassador because of his concern about the security situation," Secretary of State Warren Christopher told reporters in Washington.

Glyn Davies, State Department spokesman, said the group will be available to help Peruvian authorities deal with the hostage situation if requested.

Davies said the U.S. Embassy in Lima was working to inform the estimated 10,000 Americans living in Peru of the terrorist attack and advise them to take greater security precautions than normal.

"The message is to take an extra degree of caution and tell them what areas and streets to avoid," he said.

The FBI is also working with the National Security Council, U.S. marshals and other agencies on the crisis, Atty. Gen. Janet Reno said.

Despite widely published reports here that six U.S. diplomats are among the hostages, American officials Thursday stuck to their policy of declining to confirm or deny the presence of U.S. citizens in the captured compound.

The Japanese foreign minister and a delegation also landed in Lima on Thursday to consult with Fujimori on the crisis.

The Japanese are expected to play a pivotal role because, technically, the incident is occurring on their soil and because of their economic and cultural presence in Peru. There are an estimated 50,000 Peruvians of Japanese descent.

Special teams of diplomats and security advisors have been dispatched by many of the other Asian, Latin American and European nations embroiled in the crisis.

The guerrillas have threatened to kill the hostages if the government does not meet a list of demands, including the release of hundreds of imprisoned terrorists and safe passage to a remote jungle valley.

As agitated Peruvians followed every development of 24-hour televised coverage of the standoff, Red Cross officials and diplomatic sources revised their estimate of the number of hostages. Previous reports put the figure at 490, but the Red Cross gave a new estimate of 380; other figures range up to 450.

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