Mediators and guerrillas met Thursday in a first step toward ending Peru’s hostage crisis, and a leading Roman Catholic churchman said efforts to free the 72 captives had “advanced positively.”
Scores of National Police officers with automatic weapons stood guard around the Japanese ambassador’s house as Archbishop Juan Luis Cipriani, a Red Cross representative and the Canadian ambassador met with the rebels to set an agenda for talks with the government.
Emerging three hours later, Cipriani said the hostages appeared to be fine. “I hope that with the prayers of everyone, we are headed toward finding the light of a peaceful solution,” he said.
The meeting was seen as an important move toward launching the first formal talks between rebel and government leaders since masked Tupac Amaru guerrillas took over the diplomatic compound during a cocktail party on Dec. 17, seizing more than 500 hostages.
“This will help us define the ventual sequence of talks,” President Alberto Fujimori said.
Cipriani provided no details of the meeting except to say that efforts to free the hostages had “advanced positively.” He did not say whether a formal meeting between government representatives and the rebels had been arranged.
“We have had conversations in a peaceful environment, in which we found that the situation for all of the hostages is favorable,” the prelate said. While the captives appear to be fine, they are “evidently tired” of being held, he added.
U.S. Ambassador Dennis Jett said he was delighted with the outcome. “I think this is a very positive step,” he said. “It’s the kind of negotiation that can lead to a peaceful outcome.”
A house across the street from where the hostages are being held has been selected and furnished for possible negotiations between government and rebel representatives.
Cipriani and another mediator, Red Cross representative Michel Minnig, have been regular visitors to the residence since the standoff began. The third mediator, Canadian Ambassador Anthony Vincent, was among the original hostages.
The rebels have released hundreds of captives, including diplomats from the United States and Canada, but they have kept their bargaining power by retaining a select group of hostages, including Peru’s foreign minister, the ambassadors of Japan and Bolivia and a younger brother of Fujimori.
Cipriani, a friend of Fujimori, said Wednesday that he has held informal discussions inside the residence with rebel leader Nestor Cerpa, exploring options for ending the crisis.
But there has been no sign that the rebels will drop their key demand: that hundreds of comrades in Peruvian jails be released in exchange for the hostages. Fujimori refuses to trade prisoners for hostages.
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