Fujimori takes hard line with rebels over hostages


A SUBSTANTIAL number of hostages not directly involved with the Peruvian government were being released early today by the left wing rebels who have been holding them in the Japanese embassy in Lima.

But, in a statement read to the waiting media, the rebels said they would continue to hold people connected with the Peruvian administration, including diplomats and senior government figures.

The release of hostages began shortly before 3 a.m. Irish time following the issuing of the statement. The rebels said they were releasing the hostages thought to number 225 of the 340 being held as a gesture for Christmas.

However, they were critical of the hard line attitude of the Peruvian President, Mr Alberto Fujimori, and said they would continue to hold the remainder of the hostages until their colleagues are released from prison.

Earlier yesterday, a plea for the return of water, electricity and phone communications came from the Japanese embassy as the Peruvian President, Mr Alberto Fujimori, publicly took a hard line with the rebels holding some 340 hostages inside the compound.

The latest in a series of hand written messages to the outside, held up to a window of the residence, read "Mr President, please order the restoration of water, light and telephone."

It was not clear whether yesterday's message was an appeal directly from the captives or was drafted on orders from the hostage takers. Additional signs were later placed at windows including one in Japanese with the same request.

The Lima government cut utilities to the compound on Thursday in a attempt to put pressure on the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), the Marxist guerrilla movement which seized the residence compound and the hostages last Tuesday. The captives include about a dozen ambassadors, numerous foreign officials and dignitaries and senior Peruvian government officials.

The Japanese Foreign Minister, Mr Yukihiko Ikeda left the Peruvian capital yesterday to return to Tokyo following three days of discussions on the crisis.

His mission, according to the Japanese press, had been to assure that ensuring the safety of the hostages would be given priority status by the Peruvian authorities.

In Tokyo yesterday, the Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Ryutaro Hashimoto, expressed support for Mr Fujimori's call for a peaceful solution to the hostage crisis. His message of support came after earlier statements from Tokyo suggested that Japanese and Peruvian authorities were at odds on how to deal with the crisis.

On Saturday Mr Fujimori firmly rejected demands from the MRTA, calling on them to lay down their arms without any preconditions. The only solution to the stand off is that "the captors lay down their arms before a (neutral) commission and that they facilitate the evacuation of all the hostages, without exception", he said in a brief televised message. Despite the firm tone of Mr Fujimori's speech, he indicated that some negotiation was possible on the fate of the rebels and there were no plans to use military force to end the hostage drama.

Yesterday, during the traditional Angelus prayer in St Peter's Square, Pope John Paul II called on the rebels to release the hostages before Christmas.

The rebels released a group of 38 hostages on Friday. The freed captives read a stated from the MRTA saying the "only possible solution (to the crisis) is to meet our demands".

In a communique from MRTA headquarters, apparently written before Fujimori's speech, the rebel group warned that commandos had been ordered to attack economic and military targets around the nation if the government ordered a strike on the residence.

The guerrillas are seeking the release of 453 of their comrades currently jailed by the Fujimori government.