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Explosive conclusion // Peru's military strike saves 71 of 72 hostages; all 14 rebels perish.

In a blaze of gunfire and explosions, Peruvian commandos stormed the Japanese ambassador's residence here Tuesday, killing the band of Marxist guerrillas who seized it 126 days ago and freeing 71 of the 72 hostages.

A triumphant President Alberto Fujimori said one of the hostages and two soldiers were killed in brief but fierce clashes within the residence compound. Several other hostages were injured, including Foreign Minister Francisco Tudela and Japanese Ambassador Morihita Aoki.

Nevertheless, the 40-minute military operation marked a dramatic success for Fujimori. Long criticized as authoritarian, the Peruvian leader sought for four months to negotiate a peaceful end to the standoff. Finally, out of patience, he opted for the take-no-prisoners approach that often has characterized his 6{ years of rule over this poor Andean nation.

"They were armed to the teeth, and we had to act to save the hostages," Fujimori said in an improvised speech several hours after the fighting ended. "I did not doubt for a second in giving the order for this rescue operation."

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto of Japan, speaking in Tokyo, expressed regret that he was not consulted before the Peruvian soldiers, their faces painted with black grease, crashed into the Japanese ambassador's posh residence about 4:20 p.m. EDT. He expressed thanks to Peruvian authorities, however, for "seizing the chance" to end the crisis that began Dec. 17 when 14 guerrillas from the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement burst in on a gala reception hosted by Ambassador Aoki on the Japanese emperor's birthday.

Fujimori acknowledged the Japanese government had demanded _ and had not received _ advance notice of any attempt to end the crisis by force. "I did it because in a rescue of this nature, the factor of surprise is fundamental," he declared.

Visibly exalting in the lightning commando raid, Fujimori entered the residence compound soon after it ended and soldiers ripped the guerrilla flag from atop the building. Wearing a bulletproof vest and waving his fist, he led the soldiers in nationalist cheers as smoke billowed from the building and martial music played.

Clad in black fatigues and stocking caps, their automatic weapons dangling as they stood before the president in rough formation, the troops intoned a discordant but proud version of the Peruvian national anthem before dispersing.

Freed hostages stood nearby in the improvised liberation ceremony presided by Fujimori and carried live on Peruvian and foreign television. Explosions erupted as he spoke, however, and security guards led him quickly away as hostages boarded buses that carried them to the National Police hospital. The president later addressed the nation to explain his decision and praise the soldiers who carried it out.

Fujimori said only a few hostages were injured seriously, and one, Peruvian Supreme Court Justice Carlos Giusti, died of an apparent heart attack. Twenty-five others suffered minor injuries, he added. The low incidence of serious injuries seemed likely to influence the way the operation _ hailed immediately as a success _ is viewed in the longer run. Fujimori acknowledged that two soldiers, Lt. Raul Jimenez Chavez and Cmdr. Juan Sandoval, were killed during the operation, but it was not seen as a high number of casualties.

Among those reported injured was Ambassador Aoki. But he waved to Peruvians standing nearby as an ambulance brought him to the hospital entrance and reports here said he suffered only a banged elbow. Later, Fujimori reported, he was at work at his embassy desk "like a good Japanese."

The rebels who attacked his residence during the diplomatic celebration took more than 500 hostages to back their demand for release of imprisoned comrades. The hostages included diplomats, high-level Peruvian officials, and local and foreign businessmen. Most were released in the following weeks. Those who remained _ none was released after early January _ included two Cabinet ministers, two ambassadors, police and military officials, and Japanese diplomats and businessmen.

The Lima station Radio Programs said the operation was launched by elite special forces troops who entered the residence through a tunnel. Police and soldiers were seen on live television moving into the compound, some behind armored vehicles, as explosions and gunfire rang out through nearby streets.

The number of forces involved was reported to be 140, including naval troops, police and army special forces units.

According to Fujimori and other Peruvian authorities, all 14 guerrillas inside were killed. Those dead, they reported, included Nestor Cerpa, the 43-year-old former union organizer who was the Tupac Amaru leader and commander of the rebel squad that took over the residence.

Reports on Peruvian radio and television said a pool of blood was seen at the bottom of a staircase as hostages filed down toward the main entrance once the fighting subsided. Other hostages could be seen on live television broadcasts being led by soldiers across the residence roof to a stairway leading to the garden.

Cerpa's reported death _ and the violent failure of his spectacular seizure of the embassy residence _ would constitute a decisive setback for the Tupac Amaru guerrilla movement that has fought for more than a decade to install in Peru a socialist government with an ideology inspired by President Fidel Castro's revolutionary communism in Cuba. But a spokesman for the movement in Hamburg, Germany, told wire services that its guerrillas will attack new targets in retaliation for Tuesday's raid.

"There are economic and military targets that will be attacked," spokesman Isaac Velazco declared, without specifying what they would be.


At 4:20 p.m. EDT soldiers storm through the double doors of the compound's outside wall and the shooting starts.


With explosions rocking the compound, fire breaks out and thick smoke billows from the Japanese ambassador's residence.


Minutes into the mission, hostages crawl along a flat roof of the residence to a side stairway, where troops guide them to the ground. Some of the injured had to be carried out.


About an hour after the raid began, President Alberto Fujimori joins the ex-hostages and soldiers in singing the national anthem.