Hostages in Lima ordeal beg for food

"There's nothing left but for all of us to die together." The words of one of the Peruvian guerrillas holding almost 400 government and diplomatic hostages in the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima brought a chill to this nation and the world.

"We do not want an attack. We do not want an assault. But we know we're dead anyway," the guerrilla told a Lima radio station by phone. It increased fears that the siege of the residence might end in violence despite pressure from governments around the world to resolve it peacefully.

The guerrillas of the Marxist Tupac Amaru Liberation Movement (MRTA) stormed the building, in the San Isidro district, on Tuesday during the annual Christmas party. They are holding government ministers, ambassadors, judges and Japanese executives. They are demanding the release of several hundred comrades, safe conduct, a multi-million cash ransom and a 180- degree turnabout in President Alberto Fujimori's free-market policies. An international Red Cross official said two dozen guerrillas were holding the hostages.

Mr Fujimori seems intent on starving out the guerrillas and the hostages. "No food. No water - the hostages," said a sign held out by a hostage yesterday. The sign later appeared in other languages, including Spanish and Japanese.

Supermarket employees wheeled trolleys of sandwiches and vegetables to a back door of the residence but it appeared to be minimal for 400 people who had been cooped up for 48 hours. The trolleys also contained toilet paper, after the hostages complained of hygiene problems.

"The situation inside is difficult. There is overcrowding. It is very hot. Among the illnesses the hostages are suffering from are diabetes, heart problems, ulcers and diarrhoea," a Red Cross official, Sergio Natajaran, said.

Security forces cordoned off the block around the building while Mr Fujimori remained silent on the guerrillas' request for him to show up and negotiate. They were reportedly receiving instructions by bleeper from a group leader calling from "somewhere in the Peruvian jungle".

The Canadian ambassador, Anthony Vincent, appeared to be the key mediator, working by telephone.

Most Peruvians expressed frustration and appeared to back tough action. Relatives of the hostages showed up at the cordon, bringing food and clothing, but were held back. The Japanese Foreign Minister, Yukihiko Ikeda, arrived from Tokyo to help with the negotiations.

Dushanbe - Tajik guerrillas seized 23 hostages yesterday, including seven foreign United Nations military observers, and threatened to shoot them if their demands were not met within two days, Reuter reports. A UN source in the capital, Dushanbe, said the group held up a column with UN personnel, Tajik government officials and representatives of the armed Islamic opposition. They demanded the rebels free the brother of an opposition chief who joined forces with the government last month and would shoot the hostages and detonate 30 bombs which had been hidden around Dushanbe if their demands were not met by 2pm tomorrow.

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