Easter eggs but no freedom

The 72 hostages held in the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima will receive chocolate Easter eggs today, their 103rd day in captivity, amid reports of progress in talks to free them, writes Phil Davison.

Diplomatic sources say the 15 or so Tupac Amaru Liberation Movement (MRTA) guerrillas holding them may free the hostages in return for the release of some, though not all, Tupac Amaru members jailed in Peru. The guerrillas would free some hostages, fly to Cuba with others, and release them there.

The rebels are also said to be demanding a multi-million dollar ransom, athough it is not clear whether Peru, Japan or the Japanese corporations whose executives are among the hostages, would foot the bill.

Talks on the logistics of a release operation are expected to begin after the Easter holiday, but the Japanese prime minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, warned against expecting dramatic progress soon.

Peruvian analysts also warned of disagreements within the guerrillas over how many of their imprisoned comrades should be freed. When they took over a diplomatic cocktail party on 17 December, initially taking more than 500 hostages, they demanded the release of all 400 imprisoned comrades. President Alberto Fujimori of Peru continues to say in public that none will be freed.

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