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Government defends its handling of hostage crisis

December 31, 1996

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ President Alberto Fujimori’s government defended its handling of the two-week-old hostage crisis Monday, saying despite the lack of recent progress it expects the safe release of all the captives.

``We are certain that the good handling of the crisis will permit a solution preserving the physical integrity of all the hostages,″ said Alberto Pandolfi, the head of Fujimori’s Cabinet.

``What we want is a prompt solution. This has been the objective of the government from the start,″ Pandolfi said in a year-end message to government workers.

Fujimori has taken a hard line _ which has softened in recent days _ against the rebels holding 83 hostages inside the Japanese ambassador’s residence. He has said he would not consider their demands until they freed all the captives.

The Peruvian government has been under conflicting international pressure during the conflict, with Japan in particular insisting that it do nothing to risk the lives of the captives.

Late Monday night, television camera crews atop buildings near the compound transmitted what appeared to be singing and cheering from inside the residence. The reason for the outburst was not known.

Earlier, the arrival of several Red Cross officials and a chief government negotiator, Domingo Palermo, had stirred hopes that some of the hostages would be released shortly.

The rebels freed 20 hostages Saturday, after Fujimori sent a Cabinet minister to initiate direct government contact with the rebels. The move was a departure from Fujimori’s stated policy of not negotiating with ``terrorists.″

While reiterating the government objectives, Pandolfi harshly criticized the Tupac Amaru, saying, ``Violence has never resolved anything.″

Fujimori conferred Monday with Education Minister Domingo Palermo, the negotiator who talked with rebel leader Nestor Cerpa on Saturday inside the residence.

Also Monday, relatives delivered hundreds of letters to the Red Cross, which says it will take them to the hostages Tuesday and deliver the captives’ mail to loved ones on the outside.

The Red Cross said the rebels have agreed to the mail exchanges every three days. Tuesday’s will be the fourth since the rebels stormed the residence during a party marking the Japanese emperor’s birthday on Dec. 17.

Palermo also talked Monday with Michel Minnig, the head of the Red Cross in Peru and the main go-between between the rebels and the government.

Red Cross spokesman Roland Bigler warned against expecting too much, too soon.

``We think this is a very delicate situation that should be dealt with very patiently,″ he told The Associated Press.

``We believe no one should look for a quick-fix solution. There has been no force used for 13 days and this is a good development _ a good trend to follow.″

In the northern jungle town of Tarapoto on Monday, thousands paraded through the streets in support of the hostages, according to radio reports.

Tarapoto was a Tupac Amaru stronghold until 1993.

Update hourly