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Mediators in Peru hostage crisis propose deal

Mediators in Peru's 98-day hostage standoff have laid out the first independent proposal to end the crisis, a deal reportedly being considered seriously by both sides.

Under the plan, Peru's government would agree to free 17 jailed members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement in exchange for the safe release of the 72 hostages.

The guerrillas holding the Japanese ambassador's residence would fly to asylum in Cuba with a multimillion-dollar ransom settlement and with at least eight top hostages, who would later be freed.

Others of the estimated 460 incarcerated Tupac Amaru rebels would be considered for early release, and Peru's government would agree to improve the harsh conditions in the country's prisons.

While neither side has yet accepted the deal, both are seriously considering it, and analysts said they think the plan represents the first solid outline of an eventual peaceful settlement.

"It's a very realistic proposal," said Luis Lamas, a lawyer and terrorism expert in Lima. "I think it has a lot of appeal to both sides and has a real possibility of filling in the gaps."

The proposal was drawn up by a mediation commission that includes Archbishop Juan Luis Cipriani, former hostage and Canadian Ambassador Anthony Vincent and Michel Minnig, the Red Cross chief overseeing the hostage crisis. It is the first independently created proposal offered to both sides in the crisis.

Commission members reportedly were on the verge of resigning in recent weeks as face-to-face talks by the two sides repeatedly stalled.

"They've reached their limit. There's nothing else they can do," Lamas said. "Now they're asking that both sides make concessions."

The proposal is widely thought to be the commission's last-ditch effort to get a peaceful settlement in what is now Latin America's longest hostage crisis.

"Holy Week, when we commemorate the death of the Son of God, who speaks to us of forgiveness and reconciliation, is a very good occasion to reach a peaceful and viable solution," Cipriani told reporters after presenting the proposal.

Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori also has said he hopes to find an end to the crisis by Easter. But after a meeting with Cipriani on Monday he warned that "the date for the end of (the crisis) is not in sight."

A Japanese envoy in Lima also warned that reports saying both sides had agreed to the mediators' plan were just rumors.

The two sides, however, have agreed on a few key points of the plan, sources close to the negotiations said. After initially rejecting an offer of asylum in Cuba, the hostage-takers have agreed to go if they are allowed to fly a Cuban airline rather than take a Peruvian military jet, a condition the government has accepted.

The government also has agreed to let the terrorists take at least eight hostages to guarantee safe passage.

These would include the most valuable captives, such as Peruvian Foreign Minister Francisco Tudela and Japanese Ambassador Morihisha Aoki.

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