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Key Figure in Peru Probe Leaves Country

Investigation: Police commander is one of 19 due to testify about security breakdown before hostage siege at ambassador's residence.

May 07, 1997|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BUENOS AIRES — The Peruvian government's probe of an alleged security breakdown that preceded an 18-week hostage siege in Lima took an unexpected turn Tuesday with the news that one of the 19 police commanders under investigation has left the country.

Lt. Gen. Luis Malasquez of the national police was in Mexico on Tuesday, according to his daughter, Juliana. Malasquez is charged with negligence in connection with the siege at the Japanese ambassador's residence. He was scheduled to appear today before a military tribunal in Lima, the capital.

Malasquez, who was commander of the region where leftist guerrillas took over the residence Dec. 17, reportedly flew to Cancun with his wife on Sunday. His departure caused a stir when it became public.

Military prosecutors are investigating Malasquez and 18 other top police officials, including two anti-terrorist commanders who were among the 71 hostages rescued in a bold raid last month. The officials are accused of failing to beef up security in response to a report by the National Intelligence Service in November warning that the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement was planning an attack on diplomatic facilities in Lima.

Although it has been reported that the intelligence service singled out the Japanese Embassy as a potential target, the Tupac Amaru rebels caught Peruvian and Japanese security forces off guard when they invaded a VIP-studded reception at the Japanese ambassador's residence and took hundreds of hostages.

The charges include negligence and disobedience, which carry punishments ranging from a few days to 20 years in custody.

The investigation is a painful but important step that will bring closure to Peru's marathon ordeal, according to a retired police general who once commanded anti-terrorist operations.

"When it comes time to determine responsibilities, the law is the law and it has to be enforced no matter how tough that may be," said Hector Jhon Caro, who is now a Lima city councilman. "People might end up in custody as a result, they might be punished with administrative discipline. It will bring an end to the drama of the hostages and set an example for the future."

The trip to Mexico by Malasquez was unwise and could complicate his legal situation, Jhon said.

Malasquez's daughter insisted Tuesday that her father was on a brief vacation and would return. She said his trip to Mexico was legal because, although charges had been announced, the military justice system had not issued an order for him to appear in court. That order reportedly was issued Tuesday.

If Malasquez does not attend today's hearing, Peru will be unable to extradite him because the country's extradition law does not cover the military crimes in question, court officials said.

After newly appointed Interior Minister Cesar Saucedo announced the charges against police brass last week, Malasquez denied wrongdoing and called the accusations biased.

Some Peruvian political analysts questioned the decision to file charges exclusively against the police, portraying the move as part of a long-running feud between the national police force and the intelligence service. Both agencies came under fire after the attack by the Tupac Amaru, a guerrilla movement that was considered virtually extinct.

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