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Western Press Review: Standoff in Peru Dominates Commentary

  • Don Hill

Prague, 23 December 1993 (RFE/RL) -- The capture of the Japanese Embassy in Peru, and the confinement by Tupac Amaru revolutionaries of hostages there, continues to dominate Western press commentary. The rebels released 225 captives yesterday but held 140 others. The standoff enters its seventh day today.

THE WASHINGTON POST: Last nights hostage release was a surprise

Gabriel Escobar writes from Lima today: "Although the rebels had indicated they would reduce the large number of hostages, last night's release was surprising both for its size and because it included several ambassadors, many other dignitaries and the seven U.S. officials."

Escobar says: "With a smaller, more selective and certainly more manageable hostage population, the standoff between the Peruvian government and the gunmen has entered a new stage. The rebel leader, Nestor Cerpa Cartolini, hinted at the difficult task ahead in a communiqu� in which he castigated President Alberto Fujimori for a 'confrontational' attitude and again repeated demands already rejected by the government. "But at least for Sunday night, the sudden freeing of so many people was in itself a release for a beleaguered country."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The release does not mean an end to the standoff.

Sebastian Rotella and Mary Beth Sheridan also conclude today that the release does not presage a quick end to the standoff. In the writers' judgment, Peruvians had begun to hope for civil peace. They write: "It was the biggest release of captives since the six-day standoff began. But, with the rebels still holding Peruvian congressmen, Supreme Court judges, Japanese businessmen and some foreign diplomats, the crisis didn't appear close to a solution."

They continue by saying "The fatigues-clad, heavily armed guerrillas grabbed control Tuesday of the Japanese ambassador's home during a glittering cocktail party. The seizing shocked this country and dozens of governments whose citizens were suddenly prisoners."

They write: "In (a march yesterday) through middle- and upper-middle-class communities near the besieged residence of the Japanese ambassador, more than 1,000 demonstrators prayed, sang hymns and lifted signs calling for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Their pained faces and voices revived memories of the country's civil war, which left 30,000 people dead and brought the nation dangerously close to anarchy before subsiding three years ago. Until the hostage standoff, Peruvians had thought the strife was behind them."

MIAMI HERALD: Current crisis is similar to a 1980 hostage situation

Ambassador Diego Asencio and Dr. Nancy Asencio write in a personal commentary: "We feel a sense of deja vu as we follow the developments of the invasion of the Japanese Embassy residence in Lima. It takes us back to our own hostage experience in 1980 at the Dominican Embassy in Bogota, Colombia:

The Asencios continue: "The assault on an embassy reception, the shoot-out, the demand for the release of political prisoners, the threat to begin killing hostages, the beginning of jockeying among countries as attempts are made to reconcile differing positions on terrorism and the apparent participation on the part of some of the hostages in the negotiating process.(All this) brought back fresh memories of gunfire, sprawled bleeding bodies and the shock to one's system as the physiological processes slowed down. Fortunately, the numbness also ensured an almost surreal lack of fear. It was only when hope returned and one became human again that fear also returned.

"One of the shocks of the current attack on the part of the Tupac Amaru is our conviction that, since so little had been obtained in the taking of the Dominican Embassy in Bogota, that this would have been the last time such an adventure would be attempted. It seemed hardly worthwhile to mount the logistic efforts, the sacrifice of young lives and innocent people, the bad publicity and the alienation of the general population for very limited goals."

The Asencios conclude: "Acts of terrorism are cheap shots taken by cowards. It is not an act of the strong, but an instrument of the weak. Terrorists are most dangerous when they are in trouble and under severe attack. Both the M-19 in Colombia and the Tupac Amaru in Peru had their ranks diminished and their leaders jailed at the time they decided to try to recoup. We strongly condemn the Tupac Amaru's terrorist attack in Lima. We feel the pain of our fellowmen at the Japanese ambassador's residence and pray for a speedy solution to this act of madness."

THE BOSTON GLOBE: Both parties seem to be polarized as before.

Several commentators and analysts examine the difficulties involved in governments' official policies of refusing to negotiate with terrorists. Pressures to compromise such policies come from hostages, other governments, pragmatism, and the vagaries of varying circumstances. Steve Fainaru writes today in The Boston Globe: "In many ways, both the guerrillas and the government of President Alberto Fujimori appeared as polarized as before. While refraining from using force, Fujimori has taken a hard line toward the guerrillas' attempts to turn the crisis into a platform for peace negotiations." Fainaru says: "The crisis has recalled the worst days of Peru's war against guerrilla violence, when blackouts and water shortages were common. Car bombs were so frequent that some people were afraid to walk past parked vehicles."

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: How to deal with terrorists

Mark Fazlollah wrote yesterday: "The heavily armed Peruvian rebels who seized the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima last week are terrorists, the U.S. State Department says, and the official policy is that the United States won't negotiate with terrorists. Still, Washington did not oppose negotiations that started almost immediately to free more than 300 hostages, including seven Americans. And the Peruvian government, which vowed never to negotiate with terrorists, is deep in talks with the guerrillas from the Tutpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. Reality dictates that governments regularly make deals with armed groups of all stripes. There are literally hundreds of hostage and kidnap situations every year in Latin America, usually resolved through negotiations, generally with little public attention."

THE NEW YORK TIMES: US quite while Peru tries to resolve the crisis

Clifford Krauss wrote yesterday: "Holding firm to its policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists, the Clinton administration is playing a quiet, backstage role in trying to resolve the Peruvian hostage standoff."

Krauss wrote: "Washington's hard-line public approach is in contrast to the private comments of Japanese officials, who have suggested that a negotiated safe-passage to Cuba for the rebels would be welcome. Still, officials from both countries have denied that a rift between the countries exists over how to resolve the crisis. Whatever diplomatic strategy evolves in Washington, diplomats here say that Fujimori is likely to follow his own advice and that of his military high command. A tough no-compromise policy against terrorism has been a hallmark of his government."