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Fujimori Says He Would Consider Granting Rebels Safe Passage

December 31, 1996

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Peru’s president says he would consider granting safe passage out of the country to rebels holding hostages in the Japanese ambassador’s house if they release the captives and lay down their weapons.

Breaking a 10-day silence on the hostage crisis, President Alberto Fujimori appeared to soften his earlier stance against the rebels in a response sent Monday night to a questionnaire by The Associated Press.

Rebels of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement seized about 500 hostages on Dec. 17 during a gala cocktail reception marking the Japanese emperor’s birthday.

They have released more than 400 hostages, but are still holding 83 people, including several ambassadors, Japanese businessmen, and Peruvian military chiefs, anti-terrorist experts and government cabinet members.

Fujimori earlier said he would not consider rebel demands to free their jailed comrades until they freed all the captives. That statement, on Dec. 21, was his first and _ until now _ only public comment on the hostage crisis.

Cheering and singing resounded from the Japanese ambassador’s residence Monday night, raising hopes that more of the hostages held by Peruvian guerrillas could be released today.

Television audio equipment atop nearby buildings broadcast the sounds of an apparent celebration inside the dark building Monday night.

Outside, government negotiators shuttled in and out of the compound and motorcycle police gathered around, but it was not known if the negotiations had made progress.

A spokesman for the Red Cross, which has been supervising the talks, warned against hopes for a quick end to the crisis, which entered its third week today.

``We think this is a very delicate situation that should be dealt with very patiently,″ said Roland Bigler.

On Monday night, Domingo Palermo, chief negotiator for the Peruvian government, joined Michel Minnig _ Red Cross director in Peru _ outside the residence.

Palermo last entered the compound Saturday, when three hours of face-to-face negotiations persuaded Tupac Amaru rebel leader Nestor Cerpa to release 20 more hostages. The meeting was a departure from Fujimori’s refusal to negotiate directly with terrorists.

The guerrillas had threatened to kill captives if the government did not agree to their key demand to free about 300 fellow rebels from Peru’s squalid prisons. Fujimori has said he would not rule out using force to secure the hostage’s release.

In a seven-page fax, the Peruvian president said he was ``willing to find a solution without spilling blood, and without human rights violations by either of the sides involved.″

The Peruvian government has been under conflicting international pressure during the conflict, with Japan’s government insisting that no action be taken that would risk the lives of the captives.

When asked if he was willing to allow the rebels safe passage to a foreign country if they released the hostages and lay down their arms, Fujimori replied: ``The Peruvian government has never denied that possibility. But there must be discussion.″

But he stressed that safe passage for the rebels is ``not the real problem.″

Press reports have speculated that the government could let the rebels seek asylum in Cuba, but Fujimori said the Cuban government ``had not been contacted″ by his officials on the matter.

In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto today expressed total confidence in Peru’s handling of the crisis and said he will go ahead with a trip to Southeast Asia in early January.

Meanwhile, a rebel spokesman denounced Monday’s bombing of the Peruvian Embassy in Athens, Greece, which an anonymous caller claimed was to show support for the Peruvian rebels.

In a message put on the Internet by a spokesman in Hamburg, Germany, the rebel group called for peaceful signs of solidarity and said the bombing ``could give the Fujimori government justification to opt for a military solution″ to the hostage crisis.

Update hourly