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U.S. ambassador left residence half an hour before hostages taken

December 18, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The American ambassador and his deputy left the Japanese ambassador’s house in Lima, Peru, about a half-hour before armed guerrillas sneaked into a glittering reception and took at least 200 people captive, the State Department said today.

Ambassador Dennis Jett has since set up a task force at the U.S. Embassy, spokesman Nicholas Burns said, and around 10,000 Americans in the South American country are being alerted to take precautions and to keep away from the hostage site.

At the White House, spokesman Mike McCurry said President Clinton has been following the hostage situation closely, consulting with his advisers ``as to what his role should be″ in resolving it.

Clinton sent letters to Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori to express the United States’ anxiety and ``to advise them of our willingness to be of help in any way the United States government can be of help,″ McCurry said.

``There can be no justification for this shameful act of violence and terrorism,″ Burns said. ``Our concerns are with the hostages, who are numerous, and our concerns are with their families.″

He gave no indication Americans were being targeted. Burns described the Tupac Amaru guerrilla group as Marxist-Leninist but said he had no evidence linking them with Cuba or any other foreign country.

``We call upon the terrorists who are holding these hostages to release them quickly and safely and unharmed,″ Burns said.

As in past hostage situations, the U.S. government said it would not negotiate with terrorists _ at least seven Americans are believed among the captives _ or reward them in any way. That, Burns said, is a lesson learned bitterly from the past.

Peru, as the host government, has primary responsibility for handling the situation, he said.

An released American woman said her husband and six other Americans were inside. The U.S. Embassy reported four of the Americans worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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