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Strong-Arm Tactics Win Big

Peru hostages rescued, raid may mark new era of using force against terror.

(Page 2 of 3)

Many observers are warning against a crack-down and instead urge the government to shore up independent institutions and create more jobs to ease the country's major unemployment.

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The surprise takeover of the residence by a handful of MRTA rebels headed by guerrilla leader Nestor Cerpa Cartolini Dec. 17 was a major blow to Peru's efforts to convince the world that its guerrilla war was over and shrug off its banana republic image.

Investors will now have to be coaxed back with the assurance that this kind of situation will not occur again. Foreign companies operating in Peru already spend heavily on security due to the high crime rate.

Peru will also have some explaining to do to the Japanese government for having invaded what is technically Japanese territory without prior consent.

While the US State Department praised Mr. Fujimori for not having bowed to terrorism, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's grim expression was more than eloquent when he complained he had not been notified beforehand of the rescue plan.

But diplomatic feathers were smoothed when all 24 of the Japanese being held hostage in the compound were rescued safe and sound. "It was a good opportunity to move in," Hashimoto said. "I wish to give my heartfelt thanks to President Fujimori for saving all the hostages."

In the end, with negotiations deadlocked and the rebels refusing to allow medical check-ups for the hostages, it looked as if the Peruvian government had little choice but to act.

"The situation had bogged down," says Raul Gonzales, a Lima-based sociologist who has studied the movement. "Cerpa knew how to lead a military operation to get inside the residence, but was unable to find a way out, as that was a more demanding, political matter."

At the same time, Fujimori had come under fire recently for reports of killings and torture by a paramilitary group plus accusations that his top adviser was involved in drug trafficking. Reports of corruption within state companies are also on the rise, while Peruvians have reacted warily to Fujimori's intentions to run for an unprecedented third consecutive term - a move prohibited by the Constitution.

Mr. Fujimori reacted by sacking his interior minister and his police chief, lambasting the opposition and, some say, by giving the green light to a plan to storm the ambassador's residence.

The relatively low death toll - one hostage, two soldiers, and all 14 rebels died - made the half-hour military operation look highly efficient, coming as it did by surprise, when most of the guerrillas were playing soccer after lunch.

"Fujimori was cornered by the worst crisis of his government," said Fernando Rospigliosi, an analyst for the Institute of Peruvian Studies in Lima. "This will probably help his popularity ratings and allow him to cover up human rights abuses within the military."

The Peru Crisis: a Chronology

Dec. 17, 1996: Fourteen Tpac Amaru rebels swarm into the Japanese ambassador's home in Lima and capture more than 500 people, including government officials and foreign diplomats, attending a cocktail party. The rebels release about 80 women and elderly men soon after.