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Twins split by Peru’s hostage crisis

May 9, 1997

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ They were inseparable twin brothers growing up poor in a working-class Lima neighborhood. As adults they parted ways _ one became a guerrilla leader, the other a low-level civil servant.

Roli Rojas, a Tupac Amaru rebel leader in the recent hostage-taking, died in a hail of gunfire April 22 when Peruvian commandos raided the Japanese ambassador’s home, freeing 71 hostages held for 126 days. The raid killed all 14 rebels, one hostage and two commandos.

Rojas’ twin, Edison, lives with the consequences. Intelligence agents watch his home, and neighbors shun the family and its small store.

``There has been a systematic harassment of me and my family, and people are afraid to visit us,″ Edison Rojas, 34, told The Associated Press. Two relatives of jailed rebels were arrested after paying respects to the family.

At the Rojas’ home in Lima’s poor San Martin de Porres neighborhood, the family runs a tiny variety store from the front room of their small house. The road out front is unpaved and rutted, but the neighborhood has electricity and water. Sales have fallen sharply, their mother, Maria, said.

Two of Roli Rojas’ eight siblings were fired from their jobs without explanation after the hostage crisis began.

Edison Rojas, who said he was a public health employee, refused to give details of his job for fear of losing it and was hesitant to discuss his personal life. What the Rojas family wants most is to know how Roli died.

After the raid, the government hurriedly buried slain rebels’ bodies in cemeteries across Lima. Only two of the 14 families _ those of rebel leader Nestor Cerpa and Roli Rojas _ know where their relative is buried and have seen the body.

``When I saw his body, I felt as if the bullets had struck me as well,″ Edison Rojas said. He saw three bullet holes, one in his brother’s heart and one in his back. Rojas suspects the third shot, to the nape of his neck, was to ensure his brother was dead.

The Rojas twins were born Aug. 24, 1962, the eldest boys of nine children. Their father was a bricklayer; as children they sold candies and ice cream in the streets and later collected fares on city buses.

Their older sister, Irene, said both shunned sports and games, preferring to study and read newspapers: ``They always studied together as children on the same carpet.″

Edison Rojas recalled the good times when they were children.

``When we went to school, we were afraid to cross the busy street. One day, a policeman gave us a whistle and every time we crossed the street we’d blow the whistle to stop traffic,″ he said.

They were fraternal twins, but looked much alike as young boys. Edison Rojas recalled teachers accidentally blaming one for the other’s misbehavior. Later, while Roli was in prison, the family made Edison stop visiting his brother, fearing police would confuse them and not let Edison leave.

The two began drifting apart after high school. In 1980, Roli Rojas entered Lima’s San Martin de Porres University. He studied sociology; the hostages would describe him as their most educated and approachable captor.

A year later, Edison entered the same university to study economics, but their interests diverged. During his university years, Roli became a radical student activist and led protests against tuition hikes.

Roli also joined a leftist group in 1982 that became the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, participating in bombings, kidnappings and attacks on foreign banks and jungle towns.

He was captured in 1986 and sentenced to eight years in prison, but escaped with 47 other rebels by crawling through a 660-foot tunnel they dug.

Edison Rojas said he knew of his brother’s leftist politics, but did not know his brother was a guerrilla until his arrest. When asked if he shared his slain brother’s political beliefs, he paused, then said ``I’d rather not discuss that topic.″

``I never thought Roli would die,″ he said, ``but unfortunately he paid (for his beliefs) with his life.″

Roli Rojas is buried in El Sauce cemetery in the Lima shantytown of San Juan de Lurigancho.

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