Release of 23 raises hopes of end to Peru siege

GUERRILLAS freed 23 more hostages from the besieged Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima yesterday, leaving 80 VIP captives in the hands of the Marxist Tupac Amaru guerrillas.

Friends identified three of those freed as the Dominican Republic's ambassador to Peru, Jose Diaz, Malaysian ambassador Ahmad Moktar and the president of Peru's Exporters' Association, named variously as Arturo or Enrique Pendavis.

Several senior Japanese corporate executives were thought to be among the others freed, raising speculation that the Peruvian or Japanese governments, or the businessmen's own corporations, may have paid so-called "war taxes" - effectively ransom money - an original rebel demand. Before the hostages boarded a blue and white school bus to be taken for a medical check, one of them read a statement from the guerrillas in which they said they resented being called "terrorists".

The latest release, which could speed an end to the 12-day-old siege, came after the Peruvian government, the Roman Catholic Church and the International Red Cross launched a three-pronged diplomatic assault. Peru's official negotiator, education minister Domingo Palermo, spent more than three hours in the building for the first face-to-face contact between government and rebels. With him were Peruvian bishop Juan Luis Cipriani and Red Cross representative Michel Minnig.

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