Leftist rebels freed 38 more hostages Friday, including three ambassadors, as diplomats worked feverishly to end a three-day standoff and win the release of more than 300 VIPs still held captive.
It was the largest group of hostages freed by the Tupac Amaru rebels since the early hours of the crisis Tuesday night, when two dozen rebels stormed the Japanese ambassador’s residence during a birthday party.
As the tired and hungry hostages were driven in vehicles through police lines, hostage Javier Diez Canseco, a leftist congressman, read a statement.
“The main message is that there must be a dialogue. We’re badly off,” he shouted in frustration before being driven off. “We’re upset and we’re tense.”
The statement urged the government to restore electricity, water and telephone service to the ambassador’s residence in Lima, where two dozen rebels were holding the remaining hostages, demanding that some 300 of their members be released from Peruvian prisons.
Another of the released hostages, 20-year-old business school student Jerico Camino, warned the government against raiding the embassy residence, saying “it would be a bloodbath.”
“There would be casualties outside as well as in. And I think much more inside,” he said outside a fire station, shifting feet in the same shoes and suit he wore to the party Tuesday night.
In addition, a statement faxed to The Associated Press on Friday, apparently by the Tupac Amaru rebel group, threatened attacks on “other key targets in the country” if Peru tries to forcibly take the embassy.
Camino said there had been a lack of food, water and living space, but that after the first days, captives were allowed to watch TV and are now avidly following the live, round-the-clock coverage of their own plight.
The release of the 38 hostages at about 8 p.m. Friday left about 340 male hostages from assorted countries still inside the residence. All female hostages had been freed by Wednesday.
Among those let go Friday were the ambassadors of Brazil, Egypt and South Korea - 11 ambassadors remained captive. Also released were Peruvians including a university rector, an ex-presidential candidate and the publisher of the country’s leading business newspaper.
No Americans were freed Friday night, leaving six still among those seized in the lightning-quick assault during a fete celebrating the birthday of Japanese Emperor Akihito, a party Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori routinely attends but didn’t make this year.
While the government has not acknowledged cutting utilities to the compound, the fire chief who has been ferrying supplies to the residence confirmed the move. Fujimori’s government apparently is seeking to wear down the Tupac Amaru rebels, who have been relying on a gas-powered generator to provide light at the residence.
An unofficial government document leaked to local media early Friday by a high-ranking official said the Cabinet had tentatively decided to reject rebel demands to release their jailed comrades.
The news could not be independently confirmed, but if true, it may conflict with tactics advocated by Japan, which had 15 diplomats and more than 50 businessmen inside the residence and has pressed for a bloodless resolution.
In the first public comment by the Peruvian government, Prime Minister Alberto Pandolfi said he was confident of a “peaceful solution” to the crisis.
In a speech at an air force ceremony, Pandolfi said, “I reiterate before national and international public opinion the commitment of the government to preserve the life of the people unjustly retained in the residence of the Japanese ambassador.”
The guerrillas, who threatened Wednesday to kill hostages one by one, invited television reporters from the Japanese network NHK into the compound Friday. Japanese authorities reportedly denied permission.
Japan’s foreign minister, Yukihiko Ikeda, met Friday with Red Cross go-between Michel Minnig and Anthony Vincent, the Canadian ambassador and a central player since his release Wednesday.
He also received U.S. Ambassador Dennis Jett, who said afterward that Peru had not requested American help but “if they need our assistance, we are ready to help in any way we can.”
Jett had left Tuesday night’s party a half-hour before the rebels stormed the residence.
A team of four ambassadors freed earlier in the week announced Friday it had gained Peruvian government approval to deliver water, food, medicine and 16 portable toilets to the residence.
The toilets had been ready for two days but rebels were apparently suspicious about allowing them inside the compound.
The hostages received their best meal yet Friday - a U.N. donation of chicken, salad and sweet rolls - along with bottled water and toilet paper.
The guerrillas have their own food, military-style rations that they prepare themselves, said Otakar Lukac, the fire chief whose subordinates deliver supplies to the gate. He said two rebels in wool ski hoods are always at the residence’s main door.
“They’re men who know what they’re doing,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the hostages jotted disjointed notes with felt pens in five languages and pressed them to the thickly grated windows of their residence.
“We are fine. They are planning to release more hostages,” said one note in Japanese.
“No Food. No Water. - The Hostages,” read one in English.
It was unclear whether the hostages’ demands - some were written in Spanish, Italian or German - were their own or were made under pressure from their captors.
Ikeda, who arrived Thursday night, met with Fujimori for a third time Friday. The Peruvian president, who has not spoken publicly on the crisis, is under conflicting international pressure.
Graphic: Peru hostage crisis