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Peru Says 71 Hostages Freed

Reports that oil workers were rescued from guerrillas a day earlier proved incorrect.

June 11, 2003|Hector Tobar | Times Staff Writer

BUENOS AIRES -- Peruvian army troops and police officers Tuesday rescued 71 oil workers taken hostage in the mountain jungles of southeastern Peru by Shining Path guerrillas demanding $1 million in ransom, officials said.

The kidnappers, about 20 men and women armed with rifles, shotguns and grenades, had abducted the employees of the Argentine company Techint early Monday after infiltrating the camp dressed as oil workers, according to news reports.

Peruvian army units rescued the hostages Tuesday afternoon. President Alejandro Toledo said that no ransom had been paid and that army and police units were in pursuit of the kidnappers. No hostages were hurt.

Toledo said the rebels were "remnants" of the Shining Path, a guerrilla movement that once terrorized Peru but that has become largely inactive.

"In a fast, rapid and efficient action ... the security forces have rescued all 71 hostages," Toledo said in a nationally broadcast address. "We will give no truce to the remnants of the Shining Path. They will be defeated."

One of the rescued hostages told RPP radio that the kidnappers included women who demanded better services for the region's peasant communities.

"They said they were members of the Communist Party of Peru," the ex-hostage said, using the official name of the Shining Path movement. The hostage said he had been treated well.

The Peruvian newspaper La Republica had reported Tuesday that the government was negotiating with the kidnappers, who were also demanding medicine and radio equipment.

"We are facing a terrorist act," Prime Minister Luis Solari told reporters before the rescue.

On Monday, the kidnappers made off with about 2,700 sticks of dynamite and 270 detonators from the construction site, part of a 350-mile pipeline to transport liquefied natural gas from Peru's Amazon jungle to a Pacific port. Earlier reports that the hostages were freed late Monday were incorrect.

Untold numbers of impoverished farmers in the Ayacucho region grow coca -- the raw material for cocaine and a medicinal tea. The area has been beset by protests in recent months against the government's coca eradication programs.

Solari suggested, too, that coca growers and "narco-terrorists" might be behind the act.

The kidnapping came at an especially bad time for Toledo's government, which declared a state of emergency last month in response to a series of strikes.

From self-imposed exile in Japan, former President Alberto Fujimori -- whose government captured Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman in 1992 -- seized on Monday's kidnapping to criticize Toledo.

"The Toledo government is paying a high price for its errors in anti-terror legislation, but there is still time for corrective measures," Fujimori said in a letter released on his Web site.

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