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Government sends first official negotiator to talk to rebels

December 28, 1996

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ For the first time in its 12-day hostage crisis, Peru’s government sent an official negotiator Saturday into the Japanese ambassador’s residence where leftist guerrillas hold 103 captives.

Education Minister Domingo Palermo _ appointed by President Alberto Fujimori _ entered the residence at about 1 p.m. EST, accompanied by a Red Cross official and a Roman Catholic bishop.

All previous contact has been through the Red Cross, and a spokesman for the aid agency said Saturday it was eager for the government to establish direct contact with the rebels.

The hostage crisis started Dec. 17, when about 20 members of the Tupac Amaru movement infiltrated a gala cocktail party in a well-planned raid and seized more than 500 captives. The guerrillas gradually have released most hostages but still hold businessmen, police and government officials _ including the ambassadors from Japan, Malaysia, Bolivia, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

Peru’s sending an official representative to meet with the rebels marked the first time it had attempted face-to-face contact, a significant advance in negotiations. It seemed to diminish the likelihood that force would be used to free the hostages.

The rebels’ main demand is that Peru release their jailed comrades, who number about 300. So far, Fujimori’s official position has been to refuse to negotiate with the rebels until they lay down all arms and free all hostages.

Two neutral mediators _ Michel Minnig, the head of the International Red Cross in Peru, and the bishop of Ayacucho, Monsignor Juan Luis Cipriani _ accompanied Palermo inside the ambassdor’s house.

The two spent about two hours inside the residence earlier Saturday, leaving and then returning with Palermo just before 1 p.m. Red Cross officials have said previously that Minnig goes in to receive or deliver messages. Cipriani has said his visits are pastoral.

Shortly before Palermo entered the residence, Red Cross spokesman Roland Bigler said there was hope ``that more channels can be opened that will lead to a more direct dialogue between the interested parties.″

Bigler said the Red Cross is a messenger, not a mediator.

``It has come to the phase where a direct link ... depends on those with the power of decision in the government and the (rebels),″ he said at a brief news conference.

He described the situation inside the embassy residence as calm and under control, and he emphasized there was no evidence the rebels were torturing or abusing their captives.

``There is no sign of panic,″ he said. ``... (The hostages) have access to the Red Cross and a doctor when it is needed.″

The International Red Cross has demanded that violence not be used while it is involved, and Fujimori has said he would not resort to force. The residence is legally Japanese territory, which means the president would need permission from Tokyo to attack.

The hostage-taking brought worldwide recognition to an insurgent group many had dismissed as a spent force. It dealt a strong blow to Fujimori, who has staked much of his political fortune on pledges to stamp out terrorism.

On Friday, Fujimori declared a 60-day state of emergency in Lima and the nearby port of Callao. The measure _ for which he received congressional support _ authorizes police to stop and search anyone on the streets or in their houses, and to arrest people without warrants.

Constitutional guarantees have been periodically suspended in the capital since the 1980s to combat rebel insurgences. Later Friday, police arrested three people suspected of having ties to the Tupac Amaru. The arrests were made near the Japanese ambassador’s home.

Foreign news media received a statement late Friday reportedly from the Tupac Amaru. It accused the government of human rights abuses, widespread corruption and economic policies that hurt the poor.

``The publication of this statement in the foreign press ... is one of the conditions for the freeing of other prisoners, who are now under the custody of our comrades in arms,″ the statement read.

The guerrillas have released several other similar statements during the hostage-taking, and there was no indication they were prepared to release any hostages.

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