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Peru security chiefs resign, citing lax security in hostage crisis

April 20, 1997

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Peru’s interior minister and national police chief resigned suddenly Saturday, citing security lapses that allowed leftist rebels to seize hostages at the Japanese ambassador’s residence.

Interior Minister Juan Briones, an army general, said he was assuming political responsibility for the hostage crisis, now stretching into its fifth month.

He said that he and the police commander. Lt. Gen. Antonio Ketin Vidal, were brave enough to take office at a time when the country was bleeding from terrorist attacks ``and we achieved its pacification.″

Now, he said, ``it is also with this same valor and nobility that we recognize there was deficiency in the security that led to the taking of the Japanese embassy (residence).″

Vidal said earlier that he was leaving because of ``diverse circumstances and systematic questioning″ regarding the police.

The national police have been sharply criticized by President Alberto Fujimori and others for failing to prevent the takeover of the diplomatic compound, which was stormed Dec. 17 by a band of about 15 Tupac Amaru guerrillas.

The national police also have come under criticism recently for increased crime rates and their failure to back up municipal police in a violent confrontation with street vendors.

Briones said he had informed Fujimori of his resignation, and that it was accepted.

Gen. Cesar Saucedo, a military commander whose region of authority included Lima and nearby areas, was sworn in later Saturday as the new interior minister.

Vidal, seen by many as a national hero for capturing the leader of the Shining Path guerrillas in 1992, reported to Briones.

The rival Tupac Amaru rebels originally seized more than 500 hostages attending a gala cocktail party to celebrate the birthday of the Japanese emperor. They still hold 72, including Peru’s foreign minister, the president’s brother and Japan’s ambassador.

They are demanding that Peru release hundreds of imprisoned comrades in exchange for freeing the captives. Fujimori has refused to consider it.

In February, Fujimori blamed the police for not acting on a National Intelligence Service report warning that Tupac Amaru rebels were moving weapons into Lima.

He said then that the allegations were being investigated and warned that some officials might be punished.

Vidal was replaced by Gen. Fernando Dianderas, who previously was chief of training for the police force.

As head of Peru’s anti-terrorism police, Vidal arrested Abimael Guzman in a suburban Lima apartment in September 1992. He was named the top police commander in January 1996.

Earlier, a top Red Cross official left the country at the government’s request, calling into question the organization’s role in trying to resolve Peru’s hostage crisis, a newspaper reported Saturday.

Jean Pierre Schaerer, assistant director of the international Red Cross in Peru, left Thursday, according to La Republica. Palace spokesman Luis Zuta said Saturday that he had no information on the report.

Some in the government have accused the Red Cross of interfering with Peru’s efforts to resolve the crisis.

Among the first hostages released was Michel Minnig, director of the Red Cross in Peru. He has been a tireless go-between ever since, seeing that the hostages get meals, clothing and other necessities.

In January, the Red Cross came under criticism for insisting that police keep away from the diplomatic residence while Red Cross workers are inside. At one point, the Red Cross curtailed its activities because police were not complying.

That prompted Fujimori to comment that there was a difference between humanitarian work and ``other tasks, such as aiding and being a messenger for the Tupac Amaru.″ He did not explain.

Red Cross spokesman Steven Anderson was quoted by La Republica as saying that the Red Cross agreed to withdraw Schaerer, a Swiss, to avoid a confrontation with the government. He could not be reached for comment.

Mediators have been trying to find a way to resume talks between the government and the rebels. Direct negotiations broke down March 12.

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