|This article originally appeared in
|Peruvian army not taking rebel threats of retaliation lightly
Experts doubtful group can rise again
|By ERIC J. LYMAN
Special to the Chronicle
|LIMA, Peru -- In the euphoria surround the lightning fast end to the longest hostage crisis in Latin American history, threats by
what's left of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement tend to be hardly more than a footnote in the minds of most.
But not for Col. Jose Ramirez.
Ramirez is one of the soldiers charged with preventing the allegedly lax security that allowed the rebels, known by their Spanish initials
MRTA, to attack the Japanese ambassador's residence so easily on Dec. 17. He says he and a team of soldiers are scanning Lima
for potential targets or for movement that could indicate that the rebels are active.
"Basically, we look for anything that's vulnerable or suspicious," Ramirez said.
In a statement issued by the MRTA's spokesman in Germany, the group promised retaliation. And the rebels, while the crisis was still
going on, said that a military end to the standoff would result in a quick strike by rebels in other parts of the city.
For security reasons, the information Ramirez could provide was sketchy at best. He couldn't say how many soldiers were involved in
the prevention team or what spots were considered potential targets. He couldn't even say if the assignment was a temporary one or if
the team would be around for the long haul.
He had only a simple summary of the plan of action for himself and his comrades. "We're very serious," he said. "The lapses of Dec.
17 (at the Japanese ambassador's house) will not be repeated."
Others who are not involved in the prevention efforts did offer speculation on where the rebels might strike, however, although each
expert interviewed prefaced his remarks with the opinion that the MRTA is almost surely a spent force in the light of Tuesday's attack
that killed 14 members of the organization, including three top leaders. The rest of the movement's leadership is in jail.
"It would be very hard to imagine the rebels rising up again," said Carlos Tapia, an expert on Peru's leftist insurgencies. "The rebels, I
think, are now little more than a page in the history books."
But Tapia said that doesn't mean there couldn't be isolated attacks by the small MRTA bands that remain. And most observers are in
accord in that it definitely doesn't mean that the Shining Path, Peru's larger and best-known rebel group, can't still flex its muscles.
"Traditionally, both groups enjoy irony," said political scientist Gerard Maton, another expert on leftist rebel groups. "If they were going to
attack, it would be a good guess to look at a business or diplomatic compound belonging to Japan, or for something to happen on a
specific anniversary. I'll tell you, next April 22 (the anniversary of the attack), I'm staying home."
Tapia said he wasn't sure if the statement issued my the MRTA's leadership in Germany should be taken at face value, but if it is, he
said it may offer some clues as to what the group might have planned.
"The statement talked about quick retaliation, not a long-term strategy," Tapia said. "That may indicate more vulnerable targets, things
like bridges or railroads, especially in more remote areas."
But both Tapia and Maton said that an attack is least likely in the next few weeks.
"Even in a best-case situation, the rebels would need some time to regroup," Maton said. "In addition to that, security is likely to be
tighter around Lima for a little while than it has been in a long time."
Eric J. Lyman is a free-lance journalist based in Lima, Peru.
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|April 25, 1997