Peruvian rebels release four more hostages

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The Independent Online
Peruvian rebels holding about 400 hostages at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima released four captives yesterday evening.

Three Red Cross officials accompanied the four men out of the compound. They walked slowly and looked dazed.

Earlier, a single shot heard within the Japanese embassy compound ended two days of silence as delicate negotiations continued. Television reports speculated the shot had been calculated to silence restive hostages. The subsequent release appeared to bear this out.

President Alberto Fujimori is in close consultation with his most trusted ministers, attempting to find a solution to the devastating blow that Peruvian rebels have inflicted on his government's credibility.

Mr Fujimori and his ministers, including the Prime Minister, Hugo Pandolfi, Minister of the Interior, General Juan Briones Davila, and Minister of Education, Domingo Palermo, were reported to be meeting yesterday morning in the presidential palace to discuss the siege that followed the seizing last Tuesday night - the birthday of Japanese Emperor Akihito - of around 500 diplomats, politicians and business leaders.

The left-wing Tupac Amaru rebels were yesterday still holding 490 hostages.

Before that meeting, inside the Japanese mansion rebel leader Andante Emilio Huerta and other members of the MRTA chose ambassadors Anthony Vincent of Canada, Heribert Woeckell of Germany, Alcibiades Karokis of Greece and the French attache, Hyacinthe D'Montera, to relay their list of demands. First among these is the release of 500 Tupac Amaru prisoners.

Last Wednesday night, the five diplomats left the Japanese embassy to meet with a government commission appointed by the President and headed by a local government official.

The rebels had asked that Hubert Lanssiers, a priest, and the country's Ombudsman, Jorge Santisteban, act as their representatives. They both accepted, but so far it is not known whether or not they are a part of the mediation efforts.

As the rebels see it, their demands are simple - the liberation of all the 500 prisoners, among them their leader, Victor Polay. They also want better conditions in jails, justice for all, and economic opportunities for the poor.

But President Fujimori, who has built a world reputation for having had the courage to "disintegrate" terrorism in his country, especially in the capital, Lima, will find it hard to cave in to any of the demands.

"He is between a rock and a hard place. If he gives in to just one of their demands he will lose face forever. If he doesn't, he will be blamed for bloodshed," one observer said.

Local analysts were yesterday at a loss as to what the outcome would be. They insist it may be too early to predict anything. Mr Fujimori will have no choice but to reappear before Christmas, according to many.

"He's a very calculating man. He's probably waiting for what the Japanese Foreign Minister, who arrived in Lima early yesterday morning, will tell him. Then he will listen to the US representative and soon, hopefully on Christmas eve, he will make his own decision," said a Peruvian doctor who supports Mr Fujimori.