World

Hostage summitry

Japan and Pern agree on talks with Lima's guerrillas

Anthony Wilson-Smith February 10 1997
World

Hostage summitry

Japan and Pern agree on talks with Lima's guerrillas

Anthony Wilson-Smith February 10 1997

Hostage summitry

World

Japan and Pern agree on talks with Lima's guerrillas

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH

From Tokyo to Toronto to Lima, the business of life and death was on people’s minds even more than usual last week. In settings ranging from a heavily guarded compound in Lima’s middle-class San Isidro district to the plush confines of a 32nd floor private dining-room at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel, the questions were always the same: what to do to end a standoff involving 15 Peruvian rebels and their 72 hostages without either bloodshed or loss of face? The apparent answer: keep on talking—and hope nothing unexpected happens.

Forty-six days after the rebels first stormed a high-powered party at Japan’s embassy in Peru and took the celebrants hostage, that conclusion was reached by Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto at a weekend meeting in Toronto.

There, after slightly more than two hours of private discussions last Saturday morning, they issued a nine-point joint communiqué headed by an agreement that Peru will now seek “the commencement of preliminary dialogues” with the Tupac Amaru rebel group, or MRTA. In addition, Japan’s ambassador to Mexico will participate as an “official observer.” Beyond that, the other points were little more than affirmations of good intentions, especially “to achieve a peaceful resolution to this incident.”

The visiting leaders then joined Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and senior officials from all three governments for a 45-minute lunch. Over a meal that included a lobster and shrimp soup, tomato risot-

to, roast capon, maple and nut ice cream and a wine choice of Cave Spring Chardonnay Reserve ’95 or Louis Jadot Pinot Noir ’94, they reached a similar consensus. “We all,” said Chrétien as he left the meeting with Canada’s ambassador to Peru, Anthony Vincent, “just continue to hope for the best.”

Keep waiting, watching and hoping. That, after a week of often intense speculation and rumor, was the final result of the Toronto summit. Even in the often exquisitely nuanced world of international diplomacy, where the angriest of exchanges are usually characterized as “frank discussions,” there was remarkably little of substance. But if nothing else, the meeting quite literally brought home to Canadians the reality of a drama that has captured much of the world’s attention since the rebels first stormed the Japanese ambassador’s residence on Dec. 17. At the same time, the fact the meeting took place at all underscored the growing concern and frustration its participants feel in the face of a standoff in which neither side wants to be seen to blink.

The rebels continue to insist on the release of more than 400 imprisoned MRTA guerrillas before freeing the remaining hostages. Fujimori, whose political success is based at least partly on his reputation for toughness, insisted again on the weekend that he will not agree to that. ‘We simply cannot allow ourselves,” he said, “to be ordered around by terroristas.” And the leaders’ communiqué noted pointedly that Hashimoto “supported President Fujimori in his rejection of the MRTA’s demand for the release of the MRTA terrorists.”

But behind the careful language and diplomatic niceties, there were signs that Japan—Peru’s most important foreign investor, not least because of Fujimori’s Japanese immigrant heritage—is

not entirely at ease with his unbending position. The group of remaining hostages includes representatives of some of the country’s most prominent companies, such as the Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi automobile manufacturers. One measure of the importance of the issue in Japan is that the news conference following the meeting of Hashimoto and Fujimori was televised live nationwide.

The plan to hold the summit came about at the request of Japan after several incidents early in the week in which both rebels and Peruvian troops appeared trigger-happy. In the most dramatic incident, the rebels fired upon a police car patrolling the perimeter of the Japanese compound after police made obscene gestures in their direction. After that, police stepped up their activities near the embassy, bringing in tanks and hundreds of soldiers from elite assault units, setting off sirens and blasting martial music through 12 enormous speakers aimed at the compound. In an interview in Lima just before he left for Toronto, Fujimori conceded that stricter orders to police to behave themselves were needed.

Canadian officials found themselves in the sometimes uncertain position of a host who cannot decide how to behave towards the invited guests. Officially, representatives of all three countries insisted that the principal reason that Toronto was chosen as host site was its convenience for both sides. And Canada has already played a role in the crisis through Vincent. The veteran diplomat, who is trained in antiterrorism techniques, has spoken regularly with the rebels in his role as negotiator since he himself was released as a hostage in late December.

In the days prior to the summit, a series of reports and rumors in diplomatic circles and the international media suggested that Canada was aiming at playing a more significant role. One theory was that

KEY CAPTIVES

Among the 72 hostages still held at the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima are diplomats, government officials, businessmen—and a brother of Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. These 10 are regarded as among the most “valuable” for the rebels:

Morihisa Aoki,

Japanese ambassador Jorge Gumucio,

Bolivian ambassador Francisco Tudela,

Peruvian foreign minister Rodolfo Munante,

Peruvian agriculture minister Pedro Fujimori,

The president’s youngest brother Gen. Maximo Rivera,

Head of Peru’s National Anti-Terrorism Bureau

Moisés Pantoja,

Supreme Court chief justice Gilbero Siura,

Peruvian congressman Samuel Matsuda,

Congressman

Carlos Bianco,

Congressman

Canada, because of its warm relations with Cuba, would take the lead in arranging for the rebels to be given safe passage to Havana. Another was that Canada offered the use of military personnel to provide a guard for the rebels if they accepted safe passage. But while Chrétien said that Canada would be “pleased if we can be of use,” senior officials insisted that no specific offers of assistance had been made. The behavior of Canadian officials supported that: for one, Canada’s highly regarded ambassador to Cuba, Mark Entwistle, who was in Toronto last week on separate business, flew out of the city several hours before the summit began. Diplomatic sources in Havana suggested that the Cuban government, which is seeking warmer relations with Western nations, has little interest in welcoming the rebels. Cuban officials, in discussing the issue, have also pointedly used the word “terrorists” to describe the MRTA.

In fact, Canada’s most significant role in the crisis has centred from the start on Vincent. Soft-spoken, balding and unassuming, he has become a key member of the negotiating team appointed by Fujimori. Last weekend marked the first-ever meeting between Chrétien and Vincent, but not their first-ever conversation. That took place last Dec. 18 when they spoke by telephone immediately after Vincent was released, along with some other hostages. At that time, aides to Chrétien said, Vincent told the Prime Minister he thought he could play a role in talks and said: “I’m going back in.” Responded an emotional Chrétien: “I want you to know

that you don’t have to go back. If you do, you are a brave man.” After a two-day briefing in Ottawa and several days off, the 57-year-old Vincent returned to Lima to take a pivotal role in the five-member Commission of Guarantors, appointed to play the lead role in negotiations.

Now, even with Peru and Japan showing renewed interest in talks with the rebels, there is little likelihood that other circumstances will change. Fujimori’s sole concession has been his recent suggestion that he will consider safe passage to a third country for the rebels.

ljat is to ^ie dominant theme on the government side of

continuing talks. But no third country has yet volunteered for that role—and the rebels continue to insist that this, in itself, is not enough. ‘We will not step back” on demands for a release of jailed guerrillas, vowed MRTA leader Nestor Cerpa after the summit. At the same time, Hashimoto, who reportedly was planning to urge Fujimori to consider releasing some prisoners, came out publicly against the idea on Saturday. As Hashimoto nodded his agreement, Fujimori said: ‘We received today a great backing from the Japanese government for our strategy.” For now, the two nations remain united. But the standoff with the rebels appears no closer to resolution.

With E. KAYE FULTON in Ottawa, LUCIEN CHAUVIN in Lima and PETER McGILL in Tokyo

E. KAYE FULTON

LUCIEN CHAUVIN

PETER McGILL