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Explosion at ambassador’s home; sick hostage released

December 26, 1996

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Peru and Japan today publicly criticized Uruguay’s decision to release two alleged comrades of rebels holding 100 hostages here. Adding to the chaotic mix, an unexplained early morning explosion shook the ambassador’s residence where guerrillas are holed up with their captives.

The 1:43 a.m. blast startled police, who took cover behind trees and against walls with their guns ready. But there was no movement within the darkened home, and no indication that anyone was injured.

It was not known if the explosion was accidental, and police gave conflicting accounts about whether it occurred inside the house or on its grounds. A 10-foot wall surrounds the compound.

Police guarding the compound speculated the explosion may have been caused by one of the booby-trap bombs the rebels are believed to have placed around the grounds, El Comercio, Lima’s leading daily, reported today.

Released hostages have said the guerrillas told them the roof of the home and the area immediately around it is mined, and that the rebels carry backpacks with explosives rigged to detonate if they pull cords.

The explosion was the first sign of activity since the Tupac Amaru rebels, who stormed the house during a Dec. 17 diplomatic party, released a sick hostage Wednesday afternoon. They are holding 104 others, having released more than 430 since the crisis began.

Slumped in a wheelchair, 34-year-old Japanese diplomat Kenji Hirata was helped by Red Cross workers and a Roman Catholic bishop who had entered the diplomatic compound earlier to celebrate Christmas Mass.

The rebels, who want the government to free hundreds of jailed comrades, have kept those people they consider most useful in any bargaining process. They include two Peruvian Cabinet ministers, police generals and members of the Supreme Court as well as six ambassadors and dozens of Japanese businessmen.

The government has shut off water, electricity and telephone service to the diplomatic residence, which is surrounded by heavily armed police.

Peru’s ambassador to Uruguay, Guillermo del Solar, today accused Uruguay of compromising Peru’s firm stance with the hostage-takers. Del Solar said Uruguay’s decision Tuesday to release two alleged Tupac Amaru guerrillas _ possibly to gain the release of the Uruguayan ambassador _ has hindered Peru’s strategy for resolving the standoff.

``President Alberto Fujimori has been clear in demanding that they put down their arms and in stating that his principal objective is to protect the lives of the hostages,″ del Solar said. ``No other type of strategy should be accepted because it affects the process of negotiations.″

Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto joined in, saying he too is annoyed by the release of the rebels in Uruguay. ``The inevitable result is that negotiations will be even more difficult″ to free the remaining hostages, he said in Tokyo.

Peru recalled its chief of mission in Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital, in apparent protest over the release of the two alleged rebels.

A Lima newspaper cited government spokesmen as saying Peru was irritated by the Uruguayan court ruling Tuesday. Hours after the ruling, rebels in Lima freed Uruguayan Ambassador Tabare Bocalandro.

Uruguay has denied that the move was a concession.

Bolivia said it would not free Tupac Amaru rebels in its jails. Bolivia’s ambassador to Peru is a hostage.

On Wednesday, Archbishop Juan Luis Cipriani, an ally of Peru’s president, spent six hours inside the Japanese ambassador’s home. There was speculation he was sent by Fujimori despite the Peruvian leader’s public refusal to negotiate for the release of the hostages.

Cipriani said nothing about his time inside the house, but planned a news conference later today.

Fujimori publicly has ruled out talks, but some observers speculated Cipriani did more than hold a Mass for hostages.

``I think there are clear signs″ that Cipriani’s visit was part of a government negotiating strategy, said Javier Diez Canseco, a leftist congressman and former hostage. A Mass doesn’t take six hours, he noted.

Cipriani, archbishop of the city of Ayacucho, is a conservative noted for his support of government policies and criticism of opposition news media. He has taken strong public stands against violence.

Ayacucho was a target of violence in the 1980s and early 1990s by the Shining Path, the larger and more violent of Peru’s two rebel groups. The Tupac Amaru has tried to distance itself from the group.

Police said Shining Path guerrillas killed six people, including five family members, in an attack Wednesday on the northern coast.

Update hourly