|This article originally appeared in
|Peru mourns soldiers killed during raid to free hostages
|By ERIC J. LYMAN
Special to the Chronicle
|LIMA, Peru -- Kenji Fujimori, the son of the president, choked back tears and spoke with a quivery voice Thursday as he struggled to
make sense of the death of his friend and former bodyguard, Col. Juan Valer Sandoval, who was shot to death during the dramatic raid
that ended Peru's 4-month-long hostage crisis.
The 16-year-old Fujimori immediately returned to Peru from prep school in the United States to attend the burial of Valer, one of two
soldiers who died in Tuesday's assault on the Japanese Ambassador's residence where Tupac Amaru rebels had held 72 hostages for
More than 2,500 people gathered for the funeral of Valer and Lt. Raul Jimenez Chavez. Both were promoted posthumously -- Valer to
colonel and Chavez to captain -- in the ceremony, where a speech by the president's son was the most emotional of the afternoon.
"You died for the fatherland and for peace," he said, pausing for a moment when his voice cracked with emotion.
He regained his composure and continued.
"You died for your country, and I will never forget you. Good-bye, my great friend."
The young Fujimori walked across the cemetery lawn to kiss Valer's coffin and to embrace the officer's grief-stricken wife.
Later, speaking about Valer and Jimenez, Alberto Fujimori, the father and president, said that the pair had secured a place in Peruvian
"When a soldier dies working in the line of duty, a hero is born," he said.
The double funeral was organized with all the trappings of a head of state's, with an honor guard, nearly every top government official
present and the silk flag of Peru draped over each coffin.
Valer is said to have been fatally shot while escorting Francisco Tudela, Peru's foreign minister and the highest-level hostage, from the
residence where he had been held since Dec. 17.
Carlos Giusti, the Supreme Court Justice who was the only hostage who died in the attack, was buried in a smaller-scale funeral later in
Despite the tears and sorrow surrounding the soldiers' services, the attack that ended the crisis is being hailed as good news in most
parts of Peru.
Local media played up the return to the legislature of several congressmen who had been among the hostages. And local television
broadcast the return of several businessmen, also among the hostages, who walked into offices full of flowers and cheers.
Two local opinion polls showed that the majority of the population supported Tuesday's raid.
The firm Apoyo, which had released a 38 percent approval rating for Fujimori just before the attack, said a poll taken after the rescue
operation rose the president's approval rating up to 67 percent. The polling firm La Opinion showed the rating even higher, at 71 percent,
his highest in that poll in 14 months.
But to many observers, it's still the funeral that will be the face at the end of the crisis.
"This is something I'll never forget," said Sgt. Gonzalo Ramirez Piralta, 24, a member of the color guard at the funeral. "The sadness of
two men who died so their country could end the terrible crisis will stay with me forever. ... It was the first time I ever cried in public.
"I couldn't control myself."
Rosa Hildebradt, who lives near the cemetery, said she put on her best black dress and attended out of a sense of obligation.
"I felt I had to be close to such greatness," she said, her makeup smeared by tears. "I had to come to show that in some way I support
the families for the sacrifice they made when those two great men died."
The pomp and circumstance of the military funeral was in sharp contrast to the circumstances of the 14 slain rebels, who reportedly
were executed by the soldiers who freed the hostages.
The rebels were to be buried without ceremony Thursday night in several locations in the city.
Only three of their families showed up to bury them.
Eric J. Lyman is a free-lance journalist based in Lima, Peru.
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|December 13, 1997