|This article originally appeared in
|Soldiers free Peru hostages in dramatic raid
|By ERIC J. LYMAN
Special to the Chronicle
|LIMA, Peru -- In a violent burst of gunfire and flames, Peruvian troops Tuesday retook the compound where about 20 rebels held VIP
hostages captive for four months, reportedly killing all the guerrillas inside and ending the crisis that lasted 126 days.
Even the police guarding the Japanese ambassador's residence were surprised by the afternoon assault that is also believed to have
left one of the 72 hostages and two soldiers dead.
At least six captives and about a dozen army personnel were injured, though information at the scene was sketchy early Tuesday
The attack was so secret that on the day of the assault the number of ambulances near the residence was lower than usual.
Police officers near the scene said they simply changed shifts as normal just 10 minutes before the attack began and took that as a sign
that even their supervisors did not know about the impending assault.
The Marxist rebels who had stormed the residence Dec. 17 during a party of 500 guests gathered to honor the birthday of Japan's
Emperor Akihito demanded the release of jailed comrades and better prison conditions. President Alberto Fujimori refused.
Most of the captives were released gradually over ensuing weeks.
But when the end came for the rebels Tuesday, it came just as quickly as the situation began.
An explosion near the rear of the residence signaled the start of the attack, and army personnel stormed the building from three sides.
Brief bursts of gunfire rang out about 3:30 p.m. CDT, followed by several more explosions. Within minutes, a soldier on the roof of the
building tore down the flag of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, and other soldiers let out a loud cheer.
"We all held our breath until we heard that cheer. Then we knew it was over," said Gladis Ramirez de la Santa, who lives a block from the
residence and who watched much of the attack from the second-floor terrace of her house.
"Thank God, it's finally over," she said.
About an hour after the attack began, Fujimori arrived on the scene in a flak jacket. He hugged some of the released hostages as they
boarded buses gathered to shuttle them to nearby hospitals, and then he led some of the soldiers in the singing of the national anthem.
"The decision will be seen as controversial internationally because (the president) chose the military option, but at home there can be
only one response," said Javier Noriega, a local analyst who covers Peruvian politics.
"People here are relieved after more than four months, and Fujimori looks like a hero. He's like the gunslinger who shot the bad guy
dead on the main street at high noon."
It's clear that Fujimori ordered the attack, and he did so without informing many of the people who pressured him to seek a peaceful end
to the crisis -- most notably Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. The Japanese government, whose sovereignty extends to the
embassy residence in Lima, had pleaded with Fujimori to end the crisis peacefully.
But Fujimori, who built his reputation in part on being tough on Peru's leftist insurgencies, told the soldiers on the scene that he had no
regrets about making the call.
"The president said that the only way to teach terrorists is with violence," said one soldier as he left the residence after the attack. "He
said, `We have to fight fire with fire.' "
The fire Fujimori chose was still burning hours after the attack, though firefighters were on the scene trying to put out the flames from the
Local radio reported that Fujimori was beaming as he stood in the smoke from those fires, addressing the soldiers who participated in
"We are sending a message to people that when they try to oppose the government through violence that there is only one end," Fujimori
said, pointing at the burned-out facade of the residence.
"This is what others (with similar plans) can expect."
Eric Lyman is a free-lance journalist based in Lima, Peru.
|© 1997 Houston Chronicle
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|April 22, 1997