Hostage dog breaks siege monotony

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The Independent Online
For guerrillas, hostages, police, troops and the media, the Lima siege has become a patient waiting game, interrupted sporadically by a burst of news, and the release of unshaven VIP hostages carrying their dirty shirts and underwear in plastic bags.

A block away from the besieged Japanese ambassador's residence, a couple of hundred television cameras and telephoto lenses are trained on the building night and day from every available vantage point.

At night, the cameras' owners drowse in sleeping bags on Tomas Edison Street, beneath their tripods or aluminium ladders. The arrival of the International Red Cross delegate, Michel Minnig, rouses them; the appearance of a bus means a hostage release is imminent.

On Thursday, it was the story of the "hostage dog" that broke the monotony. Emma, one of two German Shepherds belonging to the captive Japanese ambassador Morihisa Aoki, was led to safety by a Red Cross worker. The dog had been found ragged and hungry among rubbish bags after finding her way to the building's front door. Emma had lost her companion, another German Shepherd, at the start of the drama on 17 December when he was hit by a stray bullet as guerrillas from the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) stormed a diplomatic cocktail party.

The media are camped behind two police cordons, each about 80 yards from the diplomatic compound. One group of cameramen and photographers is inside the police lines, refusing to leave the roof of a two-storey villa 50 yards from the besieged building. Colleagues pass them food using a long rope pulley.

Most of the television images you see come from there. Others come from a higher angle, the roof of a high-rise apartment block where the networks, including ITN, are paying $1,500 (pounds 900) a week for a position.

There, and on the ground, walkie-talkies crackle endlessly as news crews move around. Some have erected tents or tarpaulins amid a spaghetti of television cable; one local television crew still has a nicely decorated Christmas tree outside its van. Banks of telephones have been set up, giving phone-card vendors a brisk trade.

Portable green lavatory cubicles are shared by journalists, police, firemen and the curious tourists who come by to have their pictures taken against the wall of newspeople. After the ruins of Machupicchu, this has become perhaps Peru's favourite tourist attraction.

Fire vehicles, ambulances and bomb-disposal lorries are parked in nearby streets, and 1,000 or so heavily armed police and soldiers in flak jackets stand by. But there is no sign of the armoured vehicles which would probably be needed for an assault.

To relieve the boredom, journalists exchange jokes about the Tupac Amaru guerrillas: "I thought Two-pack O'Mara was an Irishman who smokes 40 a day until I discovered Smirnoff."

Or, they add new lyrics to the tune of "YMCA", a song performed by the camp American pop group, Village People: "We're having fun with the MRTA ..."