Fujimori vows he won’t give in to ‘blackmail’ by hostage-takers
LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Trying to seize the public relations initiative from rebels holding 74 hostages, Peru’s president broke his silence on the crisis and toured a prison where other Tupac Amaru rebels are being held.
Looking relaxed in sport jacket and open-collar shirt, Alberto Fujimori visited a Lima prison Tuesday that housed hundreds of jailed guerrillas _ including members of the movement that seized the hostages three weeks ago.
For the first three weeks of the hostage drama, Fujimori managed the crisis from the shadows, refusing to show his hand. But he was angered by an impromptu interview the rebels granted journalists who approached the compound Dec. 31.
The government has detained a Japanese television reporter and his interpreter who crossed police lines Tuesday to enter the residence for about two hours.
Early today, the leftist guerrillas raised a banner criticizing the detention. ``Now journalists are being detained to hide the truth,″ it said.
A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said anti-terrorist police were questioning the reporter and Peruvian interpreter, identified by Japan’s Kyodo news service respectively as Tsuyoshi Hitomi and Victor Borja.
The Tupac Amaru rebels stormed the Japanese ambassador’s residence Dec. 17 and have demanded the release of about 300 jailed comrades. Fujimori again rejected that demand Tuesday, vowing that he wouldn’t ``give in to the blackmail of terrorists.″
``I hope, like everyone, for a peaceful solution,″ said Fujimori, who spoke with reporters and drove his own sport utility vehicle to the maximum-security prison.
The rebels, armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers, have denounced the government for everything from failing to alleviate poverty to refusing to bargain in good faith. Japan _ which has close ties to Fujimori’s government _ criticized the forum given the guerrillas.
Fujimori on Tuesday acknowledged the public relations blow suffered by his 6 1/2-year-old administration, which had declared victory in a vicious war against leftist guerrillas. He said he hoped to convince journalists ``not to transmit the image that Peru is living in a situation of terrorism.″
TV Asahi in Tokyo said its reporter, Hitomi, had entered the compound Tuesday without the network’s authorization.
TV Asahi has urged staff members covering the hostage standoff not to take ``careless″ actions, a network spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity. She said the network had not been in contact with Hitomi since he was taken into custody.
Cabinet chief Alberto Pandolfi said the pair’s visit to the compound damaged the ``flow of conversations (with the rebels), and more importantly, put the lives of the hostages and the journalists themselves at risk.″
Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto called the visit ``very regrettable and disappointing.″
``This will significantly impair the Peruvian government’s efforts to bring about a peaceful solution to the crisis and set free all the hostages,″ he told reporters accompanying him on a Southeast Asian trip.
There have been few signs of progress for more than a week. Government negotiator Domingo Palermo has visited the compound only once.
Before dawn Tuesday, one of the rebels fired into the air, but no one was injured and the reason for the shooting wasn’t known, Red Cross worker Jean Pierre Schaerer said.
The guerrillas seized about 500 hostages when they burst into a cocktail party at the Japanese ambassador’s residence. Most captives have been let go.
Fujimori dropped out of sight after the raid, appearing only briefly last week to tell reporters he was resuming normal affairs of state.
Those close to Fujimori say he feels his position is stronger if his adversaries _ be they guerrillas or politicians _ know as little as possible.
``Silence has always been one of the hallmarks of his presidency,″ said Hernando de Soto, a former economic adviser to Fujimori.
Fujimori’s Cabinet, meanwhile, declared its opposition Tuesday to any attempt by the rebels to demand ransoms for the hostages.
The hostages include several executives of Japanese corporations, and a Japanese newspaper reported that the guerrillas have demanded millions of dollars in ransom from leading Japanese corporations. Japan on Tuesday denied the report.
Uruguay has been accused of winning the release of its ambassador by freeing two Tupac Amaru rebels jailed in that country. Uruguay denies making a deal.
Bolivian Foreign Minister Antonio Aranibar said his government had ruled out bartering for its ambassador to Peru, Jorge Gumucio, who is among the hostages and is believed to be in poor health. Four Tupac Amaru rebels are jailed in Bolivia.