December 26, 1996 in Nation/World

Blast Occurs Inside Embassy Where Rebels Hold Hostages

Associated Press

An explosion occurred early Thursday inside the Japanese ambassador’s residence where more than 100 hostages are being held, startling policemen who said they did not know the cause of the blast.

A police spokesman at the scene said the explosion came from inside of the front section of the house, which was stormed by leftist Tupac Amaru guerrillas during a Dec. 17 party.

No movement could be seen inside the house, which is surrounded by 10-foot walls. The windows were dark.

The explosion startled police in bulletproof vests, who took up positions behind trees and walls, guns at the ready.

A Red Cross worker who was spending the night inside the home came out after the explosion, crossed police lines and made a telephone call from a public booth.

Freed hostages have said their captors carry backpacks with explosives rigged to detonate if they pull cords on their chests. The rebels also are said to be armed with automatic and anti-tank weapons.

Other released hostages have said the guerrillas told them the roof of the home and the area immediately around it is mined.

The explosion was the first sign of activity since leftist guerrillas released a hostage Wednesday afternoon, led out in a wheelchair by Red Cross workers. He was accompanied by a Roman Catholic bishop who had entered the diplomatic compound earlier to celebrate Christmas Mass.

The hostage is a first secretary of the Japanese embassy and was released for health reasons, Red Cross spokesman Steven Anderson said. Japanese television identified the diplomat as 34-year-old Kenji Hirata.

Hirata, who appeared weak and slouched to one side, was taken away in an ambulance.

With his release, 104 hostages from at least eight countries remained in captivity. Uruguayan Ambassador Tabare Bocalandro was allowed to walk free Tuesday night.

Hours before Bocalandro’s release, a Uruguayan court freed a pair of alleged Tupac Amaru rebels from jail. The Uruguayan government has said the move was not meant as a concession.

Later Tuesday, the Peruvian government recalled its chief of mission in Montevideo, Uruguay. A Lima newspaper reported Wednesday that President Alberto Fujimori, who has refused to cede any ground to the rebels holding the hostages, was irritated by the court’s ruling.

The Peruvian government has not commented on the situation.

Despite failing to gain any of their demands, the rebels have released more than 430 people, including all the women and children taken hostage during the Dec. 17 takeover. Those still held, including six foreign ambassadors, are enough to keep pressure on Fujimori and discourage a counterattack.

About 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, as rays of sunshine broke through Lima’s usually cloudy skies, a Roman Catholic bishop entered the diplomatic compound to celebrate Christmas Mass. He was escorted by Red Cross director Michel Minnig, the official go-between of the two sides.

© Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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